Saturday Art: Jean-Baptiste Oudry
A painter known best for his portrayal of animals, Oudry studied and showed expertise from an early age and began as a portrait artist. He showed mastery in art featuring animals and attracted interest from members of the court of Louis XV and support that gave him a solid profession in a comfortable life.
Through his friend, Jean-Baptiste Massé, a portrait-painter and miniaturist, Oudry was introduced to the Marquis de Beringhen, hereditary master of the royal stables, for whom he painted a pair of paintings in 1727, followed by a suite of landscapes in the Flemish manner. Through this connection, he was commissioned to produce the painting that made his reputation, Louis XV hunting a deer in the Forest of Saint-Germain (1730; now at Toulouse). Subsequently he was commissioned to produce numerous works for the King, who was passionate about the hunt and appointed Oudry Painter-in-Ordinary of the Royal Hunt, in which capacity he produced portraits of dead game, the day’s kill. Oudry was granted a workshop in the Tuileries and an apartment in the Louvre.
M. Hultz, an adviser to the Académie de Peinture, commissioned Oudry to produce a buffet, or still-life combining silver plates and ewers, fruit and game; the work was exhibited in the Salon of 1737. Oudry timidly asked for tenpistoles for his work, but Hultz valued it much higher, insisting on paying twenty-five. Oudry was also commissioned to produce a buffet for Louis XV (exhibited in the Salon of 1743), that went to the château de Choisy, the King’s favoured hunting residence.
Although Oudry produced excellent scenes of animals and of hunting, he also painted portraits, histories, landscapes, fruits and flowers; he imitated bas reliefs in monotone tints en camaïeu, used pastels, and created etchings. He was often sent examples of rare birds to draw.
An important patron was Christian Ludwig II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, who commissioned two pairs of paintings from Oudry: Three Does Watching Two Stags Fighting and A Family of Roe Deer; and A Boar Hunt and A Wolf Hunt, both delivered in 1734. He later purchased a series of large paintings of animals from Louis XV’s menagerie at Versailles. Oudry’s initial motive for painting these works is obscure. When exhibited at the Paris Salon, they had been described as having been painted for the French king; however the commission seems to come through the king’s surgeon, François Gigot de la Peyronie, who had engravings made after them, and in a letter to Christian dated March 1750, Oudry wrote that they had become available for sale due to de La Peyronie’s death. In addition to the portraits of the animals from the royal menagerie, Christian also bought Oudry’s life-size painting of “Clara“, an Indian rhinoceros which had been exhibited all around Europe to great public interest. The works are still at Schwerin.
Oudry turned down offers from other regents and maintained himself well in his native country of France, with a niche that still puts him among the best known animal painters.
(Picture courtesy of Staatliches Museum Schwerin at wikimedia commons.)