Gillis Claesz. de Hondecoutre

(Antwerp 1575/80 - 1638 Amsterdam)

A wooded River Landscape

Oil on panel, 14½ x 24⅞ ins. (36.8 x 63.3 cm)

VP4974

Provenance

John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute (1744-1814), and by descent at Luton Hoo to
John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute (1793-1848)
His sale; Christie’s, 7 June 1822, lot 37, as ‘R. Savory’ (7 gns. To Colquhoun)
James Ewing (1775-1853), Strathleven House, Dunbartonshire, and by descent until 1924,
When it entered the collection of Lowood House, Melrose, Roxburghshire, Scotland, and by descent to the previous owner,
Private collection, Scotland, until 2021.


Essay

The landscape and animal painter Gillis Claesz. de Hondecoutre came from a family of painters of Flemish origin.  He was probably born around 1575 in Antwerp, but emigrated with his Protestant family from hometown to the Northern Netherlands before 1601 in order to escape religious persecution.  He lived first in Delft, and then in Utrecht, before settling in Amsterdam around 1610.  He joined the painters’ guild there, serving as its dean in 1628, and lived and worked in the city for the rest of his life. 

When de Hondecoutre arrived in Amsterdam, he joined a flourishing colony of Flemish emigres, which had established itself in the city since the end of the sixteenth century.  Among the refugees living there were the landscape painters Gillis van Coninxloo (1544-1607), David Vinckboons (1576-c. 1632) and Roelandt Savery (1576-1639). This group, which naturally served as a conduit for the transmission of Flemish ideas to the north, played an important role in the development of Dutch landscape painting in the first decades of the seventeenth century.  This period can be characterised as one of great change and innovation in landscape painting during which a transition was made from the sixteenth-century Mannerist idiom to a more naturalistic style of representation.

 

De Hondecoutre is an interesting figure, whose work reflects this transitional phase in Dutch landscape art.  He was no great innovator himself, rather he gradually took up the new ideas of others during the course of his career.  His earliest paintings recall the dense forest interiors of Gillis van Coninxloo and the woodland fantasies of David Vinckboons.  In the 1610s, he began to paint more open views of villages and country roads under the influence of his Haarlem contemporary Esaias van de Velde (1587-1630), whose new and realistic style was based on direct observations of the local countryside.  The prints and drawings of villages and byways in the vicinity of Haarlem produced by Claes Jansz. Visscher (1587-1652) around 1617 were also a likely source of inspiration.  From about 1616 onwards, Gillis fell under the spell of Roelandt Savery, whose fanciful wilderness scenes, filled with birds and animals, exerted a strong and lasting influence on him.  During the 1620s, Gillis continued to paint fanciful, rocky landscapes alongside simpler views of cottages and roads that were based more closely on the scenery of Holland.  His mature work thus combines elements of the Antwerp landscape tradition with those of the new, progressive trends in Dutch landscape painting.

This charming landscape displays a strongly Flemish character.  In typical Mannerist fashion, a tall, twisted tree divides the composition.  On the left, we see a thickly wooded area, with a winding track and village houses glimpsed through trees, while on the right, a view of sunlit meadows opens up, with resting animals, and houses and a castle beyond.  The landscape is animated by contrasting passages of sunlight and shadow, as well as by an element of storytelling: the subject is one of everyday life in seventeenth-century rural Holland.  In the centre foreground, a small family has come to rest by the roadside: the woman is sitting on a bank, with her baby on her lap, while an older child runs about happily and her husband watches as a herdsman drives his cattle to water.  The docile animals advance slowly into the stream, observed by a small boy, and another seated on a nearby bridge.  Also typical of the Flemish landscape tradition are the tunnel-like vistas between the trees that lead the eye deep into the composition and the space-defining motif, or repoussoir, of a darkened tree trunk and jagged stump in the left foreground. 

The distinctly Flemish features of the present painting suggest a date relatively early in de Hondecoutre’s career, probably in the mid-to-late 1610s.  The composition, which juxtaposes a close-up view of a woodland interior on one side, with a flat, open vista on the other, seems to owe a debt to the landscapes painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) from around 1610 onwards.  However, the relatively low viewpoint and the directness of approach reflects the new naturalism of the Haarlem landscape painters. 

Although first recorded in the possession of John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute (1744-1814), this picture was probably acquired by his father, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792), who formed an outstanding collection of Dutch pictures, which he housed at his country estate, Luton Hoo, in Bedfordshire.  In the late eighteenth century, most of the Dutch and Flemish cabinet paintings in the collection were displayed on the bedroom floor of the house. 

BIOGRAPHY

Gillis Claesz. de Hondecoutre belonged to a dynasty of painters of Flemish origin.  His father Nicolaes Jansz. de Hondecoutre (d. 1609) is cited as a painter in Antwerp in 1585-6 and his brother, Hans, was also a painter.  Gillis was probably born around 1575 in Antwerp, but his family, who were Protestants, moved to Delft before 1601.  He was probably trained by his father, although it has also been hypothesised that David Vinckboons, whose work undoubtedly influenced him, could have been his teacher.  On 22 September 1602, Gillis, then documented as living in Utrecht, married Maritgen van Heemskerk in Delft: the couple had nine children, including two sons, Gysbert (1604-1653) and Nicolaes II (1605-c. 1671), who both became painters and a daughter, Josina, who married the painter Jan Baptist Weenix (1621-1660/61).  His grandson was the celebrated painter of birds Melchior de Hondecoeter (1636-1695).  Although Gillis and his father used the French or Flemish form of the name de Hondecoutre, Gysbert and Melchior adopted the Dutch spelling de Hondecoeter.  Gillis de Hondecoutre moved to Amsterdam around 1610, where he is recorded in 1615 and 1635.  His second marriage to Anna Spierinx took place there on 19 March 1628 and he served as dean of the Amsterdam guild in 1636.  He died in the city and was buried in the Westerkerk on 17 October 1638.