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Jan Griffier c.1645-1718
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Two working cocker-spaniels with three hawks and their accoutrements on a bank
Oil painting on canvas 40 x 50 inches, and contained in a fine antique carved and giltwood frame
Provenance: ….............private collection, Shropshire
Jan Griffier was born in Amsterdam in or about 1645. According to Arnold Houbraken, who wrote a brief biography of the artist1, Griffier was addicted to foreign travel, calling himself “a burgher of the world”. Walpole says he was first apprenticed to a carpenter, a tile painter and a flower painter before becoming a pupil of the etcher and landscape painter Roelant Roghman (c.1620-86). According to Walpole he also studied informally with Adriaen van de Velde (1636-72), Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/9-82) and (though we may be sceptical about this) Rembrandt. Vertue2 tells us that “he succeeded3 and deceived4 very well.
Griffier seems to have arrived in England by 1672, as the demand for art burgeoned in the years after the demise of Cromwell and the Commonwealth. He worked initially with the landscape artist Jan Looten, and was admitted “Gratis” (ie without servitude or patrimony) as a “free brother” of the Company of Painter-Stainers of London on 4th December 16775
From the beginning of his stay, his fine and carefully-painted Italianate and Rhenish landscapes, much in the style of Cornelis Saftleven, enjoyed a steady success and an exalted patronage. His income was sufficient to enable him to spend 3000 guilders on his own yacht, which was moored at Millbank, where he lived. He seems to have been married three times: his sons John (1686/7- c.1750) and Robert (?1692-1760) were also painters, in a somewhat attenuated style derived from their father's topographical paintings. Within his first few years in London, Griffier was capable of producing masterly animal paintings whose landscape backgrounds relate to the work of Looten (rather sombre and low in tone) but in content are very closely related to the work of the distinguished pioneer of the sporting-painting genre in England, Francis Barlow (1626-1704). Griffier engraved a number of the plates in Barlow's Variae quadripedum species, (1662) and Griffier made use of Barlow's drawings/engravings on occasion in his own paintings.6 He must thus have known Barlow prior to his full-time sojourn in England.
Griffier stayed in England for the following two decades or more, and seems to have travelled widely throughout the country paintings views of ports, gentlemen's seats, of a pioneering type which promoted a genre highly popular with British patrons and collectors throughout the next century or more. Griffier's return to Holland in 1695 was marked with disaster: his yacht foundered off Rotterdam, and virtually all his possessions were lost. He seems to have stayed for most of the next decade in his native country, travelling, for instance, to Leiden in 1700. Four years later he was back in England, remaining here until his death in 1718. Despite the disaster with his yacht, Griffier seems to have re-built his fortune: his widow Mary lived in some prosperity: she is listed in a Millbank house rated at £16 5s. 4d. (a considerable sum) from 1718 until at least 1722.
Griffier seems to have painted large animal pictures intermittently throughout his years in England. Apart from the Noah's Ark (here dated to circa 1680), Griffier painted, inter alia, a Rabbit Warren7 (private collection, formerly with Mallett), again reprising elements from Barlow's book; a Collie dog barking at a cat (Private Collection, USA, formerly with Lane Fine Art) and A Turkey and other fowl in a park (Tate Gallery ref T04129). The latter is dated 1710. The three latter paintings are all of identical size (40 x 50 inches), though they seem to have been painted over a period of several decades. His Polar Bear from Novaya Zemla is dated 1686, and shows the development of a move towards a warmer and less earthy palette. The contrast between the style of Noah's Ark and the Rabbit Warren (both of which seem to be early) and the Turkey and other fowl in a park is most notable. By 1710, Griffier's style has developed towards a much warmer and tonally richer palette than the earlier pictures with their olive-greens and earth pigments, and the painting technique is more refined and measured. This is reflected in the present painting which shares a warmer tonality and palette with the Tate picture, but which again reprises8 (with variations) some of the motifs from Barlow's book of 1662. It retains the idiosyncratic pink-ish sky typical of the artist over many years. A dating to the latest years of the 17th century or the earliest years of the 18th century is thus proposed.
1. A. Houbraken De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, (Amsterdam, 1721), p.357
2. Walpole Society, Notebooks of George Vertue vol.1 pp 50-51
3.His commercial success was notable for the variety of his styles and techniques
4. By painting copies and pastiches of the works of other artists
5 Guildhall MS 5667/2, pt 1, fol. 227