Jan Fyt, Bird Concert, 1658
53 x 73 in.
Jan Fyt (1611-1661) was a Flemish Baroque painter and etcher known for his many and varied depictions of animals. Born in Antwerp, he was apprenticed at age ten to a restorer of pantings. Next he trained with Frans Snyders, a celebrated painter of animals and still-lifes, and entered the Guild of St. Luke at age twenty. In 1633 he traveled to Paris and then Italy the following year, stopping in Venice for some time to work. During his life, Fyt was perhaps most celebrated for his paintings of hunts and hunting trophies [note: somewhat graphic image]. He rarely included figures in his paintings, as he had little facility with them, and when they were included in a scene, he often entrusted them to the cooperation of another painter. I find Bird Concert to be a rather unusual painting. Now hanging in the Rockox House in Antwerp, the piece has an odd quiet power to it. The gathering of these different species of birds seems deliberate somehow on their part, as though they all planned to meet her to confer with one another. Among the birds depicted are a peacock, a Brazilian parrot, a rooster, two herons, an unidentified game bird, and a jay apparently reading a book. The noise of this imagined scene must be overwhelming. Many of the birds, namely the herons, rooster, and peacock, are all squawking, crowing, or screeching. The birds have been somewhat anthropomorphized, which partly accounts for the deliberate impression of their congress. The background is also interesting and a bit ominous, clouds swirling over an obscured landscape. The rendering of the birds themselves is quite skillful, evident in their feathers and musculature; the peacock's plumage is, or course, particularly virtuosic. I can't quite say why I find this painting so compelling, but I want to gaze at it to learn what has brought all these birds here on this evening, in this strange place and under this arresting sky.