Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


ABRAHAM BISSCHOP (Dordrecht 1670 – Middelburg 1731)

A Peacock, Turkey, and Chicken with her Chicks beside a Classical Fountain in a Landscape

signed A. Bisschop f. in the lower right

oil on canvas

69 ¾ x 48 ½ inches          (177.5 x 123 cm.)


Private Collection, England from whom purchased by

Rafael Valls Limited, London

The Dealer’s Eye, Sotheby’s, New York, January 26, 2006, lot 131


Abraham Bisschop (or Busschop), one of eleven children, was the youngest son as well as pupil of the artist Cornelis Bisschop. Three of his sisters (one of whom married the artist Abraham Calraet) were painters, as well as his brothers Jacobus, Gysbert, and possibly Cornelis Bisschop II (their exact relationship is unknown).[1] While most of the family chose to continue their father’s specialty of trompe l’oeil wooden panels of life-size figure cut-outs, Abraham took a different path, devoting his art to the painting of birds.[2] Abraham moved from Dordrecht to Middelburg in 1715 and joined the Guild, remaining a member until his death in 1731. Although much of his history is unknown, he is also mentioned as having painted portraits. Abraham painted many avian schemes for wall decorations for mansions in and around Dordrecht, Middelburg, and The Hague, and these designs often included painted ceilings. In 1715 he painted organ doors for the Church in Goes, Zeeland. In 1720 Arnoldus Campagne was his pupil. The Dordrechts Museum has a painting titled Uitheemse Watervogels (Exotic Water Birds) dated 1718, and the Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, a Hunting Still-Life with a Swan and other Birds in a Landscape. A work of A Turkey Fighting a Hen is in the Dienst Verspreide Rijksollekties and four paintings featuring exotic and domestic birds are in the Huis Schuylenburch, both in The Hague.[3]

Arnold Houbraken compiled from 1718–1721 the first comprehensive survey of Dutch paintings from the Golden Age in De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen. Written while Bisschop was active, Houbraken’s description of the artist’s abilities is memorable. He recorded Bisschop as dedicating “himself to painting birds of all sorts, particularly poultry, as he followed nature with application and singular knowledge, he became one of the most able painters in this field. Thus was allied as a natural gift with indefatigable zeal… He executed many great pieces to decorate vast halls, in Zeeland and elsewhere, he introduced to them all types of birds, each painted according to its particular nature, with colors so vigorous and lifelike and so delicate and transparent a touch that I am obligated to admire him.”[4]

Importantly, Abraham Bisschop represents the continuation of Melchior d’Hondecoeter’s grand tradition of painting exotic and domesticated birds. Jointly they represent a painted response to the newfound fortunes of a rising upper-middle class in Holland. During the second and third quarters of the seventeenth century, there was an increase in the purchasing of country estates by wealthy townsmen, and with the acquisition of an estate came an elevation in social status to something akin to semi-nobility. Paintings and wall hangings were needed to fill these enlarged residential dwellings; preferably ones that reflected the pleasures of country life. If an estate was beyond the means of an individual, at the very least one could project the image of class by the acquisition of such works.[5] Like gamepieces that symbolized the spoils and privilege of the hunt – once the exclusive right of the nobility – the resplendent bird paintings of Hondecoeter and Bisschop, staged in parks suggestive of private hunting domains, fulfilled the desires of this newly-minted patrician class for visible proof of their change in status.[6]

Our painting’s depiction of country life also reflects the passion for all things French that appeared in Holland after 1680.[7] In response to this trend, Dutch art became infused with the French classical style derived from such artists as its leading exponent Nicolas Poussin. In landscape, the style was proclaimed by including classical paraphernalia such as Greek or Roman architecture, statues, fountains, monuments, urns, etc. Light became golden, adding a quality of timelessness to these scenes, further suggestive of the tranquility associated with the late afternoon or early evening. Resplendent landscapes also became common, featuring a view into the distance along one side.[8]

Well aware of his audience, Bisschop succeeded in brilliantly fulfilling his clientele’s desire for Arcadia accented by the antique. Our landscape, suggestive of an old country estate, features a luminescent peacock in the foreground with a magnificent turkey perched on a classical fountain, from which water spouts forth through the mouth of Pan. A hen and her chicks frolic at its base. A rolling vista with classical buildings is discernible to their left. Bisschop’s mastery of feathers is on full display throughout the composition, but the varying textures incorporated into the rendering of the peacock are truly a tour de force. The birds’ portrait-like images, vivid coloration, and implied motion fuse to create a vibrant tableau. The understated overall richness of the amber glow of the canvas, combined with the contrasting passages of light and dark, further fuel the drama.




[1] Arnold Houbraken, De groote, schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen (1718–1721), volume I, Wilhelm Braumüller, Wien, 1888, pp. 247-248.

[2] Adriaen van der Willigen & Fred G. Meijer, “Cornelis (II) Bisschop” in A Dictionary of Dutch and Flemish Still-Life Painters Working in Oils, 1525–1725, Primavera Press, Leiden, 2003, p. 38.

[3]Biographical information taken from Thieme-Becker, “Abraham Bisschop” in Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, volume IV, Veb. E. A. Seemann Verlag, Leipzig, 1909; Laurens J. Bol, Aart Schouman, Davaco, Doornspijk, 1991, p. 9; Erika Gemar-Koeltzsch, “Abraham Bisschop” in Holländische Stillebenmaler im 17. Jahrhundert, volume 2, Luca-Verlage Lingen, p. 119; and Christine E. Jackson, “Abraham Bisschop” in Dictionary of Bird Artists of the World, Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1999, p. 160.

[4] Houbraken, op. cit., p. 248.

[5] Allison McNeil Kettering, The Dutch Arcadia Pastoral Art and its Audience in the Golden Age, Allenheld-Schram, Totowa, New Jersey, 1983, pp. 10-11, 18.

[6] Christine E. Jackson, op. cit., p. 12.

[7] Scott A. Sullivan, The Dutch Gamepiece, Rowman & Allenheld Publishers, Totowa, New Jersey, 1984, pp. 61, 92, fn. 1 + 2. Wars fought intermittently between France and Holland from 1672–1713, as well as numerous French Protestants fleeing the terrible persecutions brought about by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes immigrating to the Netherlands after 1685, caused a heightened awareness of French life and culture.

[8] Ibid., pp. 62-63.


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