Drawing, "Still-life with Fish and Parrot", 1740 Black, white chalk on blue laid paper. Museum purchase from Friends of the Museum Fund. 1938-66-1.
What is this?
At the base of some stone building fragments, there is an arrangement of a dead lobster and a group of fish beneath a large fish and an eel dangling from a string affixed via a nail to the remains of the ruined wall. A live parrot, seen from the back, head turned in profile, is perched on a nearby stone at the upper left (above the marine still-life); plants, at right.
This object is full of stories
An artful arrangement of sea life is composed against ruins. Lobster, fish and eel appear teeming, as though recently hauled from the sea. Perched above, a live parrot provides a juxtaposition to the nautical still life below. The tension between life and death was a favored pictorial trope of Jean-Baptiste Oudry, who would enliven his compositions by contrasting the textures of feather, shells and fur. White chalk is used to great effect, suggesting the shimmer of light against fish scales. Oudry made studies of animals directly from nature, empiricism being central to his artistic philosophy; from 1719-1721 he traveled to coastal Dieppe specifically for the purpose of observing freshly caught marine life. Accurate representations of natural specimens were eagerly collected by the nobility and cultural elite of the eighteenth century, satisfying bourgeoning interest in the field of natural history. From a young age, Oudry had a precocious love of drawing and he grew to be a prolific draughtsman, producing thousands of pictures in his lifetime. Numerous drawings were intended as finished works of art, while many were produced as preparatory studies for paintings or tapestries. The artist regularly created and sold copies of his own drawings in order to retain the original for his private collection. The Cooper-Hewitt’s drawing, dating to 1740, is likely the carefully executed replica of a work exhibited in the Salon of 1725.