At the time this engraving was made, the painting hung at Houghton Hall, the country house of the Walpole family in Norfolk, England, where it was displayed in the Breakfast Room, probably as a decorative panel over a doorway. Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), Britain’s first Prime Minister, possessed an excellent eye for art and amassed a large collection of masterpieces; however he lived beyond his means and left behind massive debts when he died. By the 1770s, these debts had grown to the point that his son, the literary figure Horace Walpole (1717-1797), had no choice but to sell the art collection. He made a valiant but unsuccessful effort to persuade the British government to purchase the artworks for the planned National Gallery. When that failed, he sold 181 paintings to Catherine the Great of Russia in 1779, who installed them in the Hermitage, where many remain today, including Bird’s Concert. Among these paintings were masterworks by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Poussin, Reni and Giordano. Today Houghton Hall is owned by the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, a descendant of Sir Robert Walpole’s daughter, Mary, and is open for public tours as a historic house and garden during the spring and summer months.
Frans Snyders was a highly prolific and influential Flemish painter and draftsman, the progenitor of Flemish Baroque still-life and animal painting. He studied with Pieter Brueghel II and Abraham Govaerts and though he was born and died in Antwerp he was also active in Italy. Over a period roughly spanning 50 years, Snyders produced over 300 paintings, along with drawings and oil sketches. He also collaborated with Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Breughel I, and other leading artists of his period.
Richard Earlom was an English printmaker who worked in mezzotint, etching and occasionally stipple. He is known for the mezzotints he contributed to the famous botanical series Temple of Flora (1805) by Robert John Thornton and a set of etchings combined with mezzotint after landscape drawings by Claude Lorrain that were published by John Boydell.
John Boydell was a successful and influential printseller and engraver. Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery is credited with changing the course of English painting by creating a market for historical and literary works. He also encouraged the development of art of engraving in England with, among other things, his prints illustrating scenes from Shakespearean plays. By the late 1760s, he was a successful entrepreneur in publishing and retailing prints, also including views, in England and across the continent. In 1773, his nephew Josiah Boydell (1752-1817) became his business partner and later his successor, trading as John & Josiah Boydell, or J. & J. Boydell, at No. 90 Cheapside, London. John Boydell became Lord Mayor of London in 1790.
Title and inscriptions below print: “A Concert of Birds. In the Breakfast Room at Houghton. Size of the Picture 4 F[eet] 7 I[nches] by 7 F[eet] 9 1/4 I[nches] long. Published Dec’r 1st, 1778 by John Boydell Engraver in Cheapside London. Mario di Fiori Pinxit. Rich’d Earlom Sculpsit. John Boydell execudit 1778.”
Condition: Generally very good with the usual expected light toning, soiling, soft creases, and wear. Few scattered foxing spots, mostly marginal, can be matted out.
“Bird’s Concert.” The State Hermitage Museum. 2003. http://bit.ly/apqRjD (10 August 2010).
Ciggola, Riccardo. “Mario dei Fiori.” Art: Artists and Architects. Italy Cyber Guide. 1999-2002. http://www.italycyberguide.com/Art/artistsarchite/fiori.htm (15 August 2002).
Julius, Muriel. “Houghton and the lost treasures – Houghton Hall’s collection of paintings.” Contemporary Review. April 1997. Online at FindArticles.com. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2242/is_n1575_v270/ai_19507292/ (16 June 2010).
Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. U.K.: Devon Library and Information Services. http://www.devon.gov.uk/library/locstudy/bookhist/lonb.html (Boydell).
“Richard Earlom,” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Online at Artnet.com. http://www.artnet.com/library/02/0244/T024430.asp (5 March 2002).
Rusche, Harry. “Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery.” Emory University. 1998. http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/classes/Shakespeare_Illustrated/Boydell.html
“Snyders [Snijders], Frans.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Online at Artnet.com. http://www.artnet.com/library/07/0794/T079417.asp (10 August 2010).