Birds of a Feather: The History of Birds in Art

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Melchior d’Hondecoeter & studio, A Palace Garden with Exotic Birds and Farmyard Foul
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

In honour of Thanksgiving, we thought it was a fitting time to pay homage to the turkey and his fellow avian friends.  Today we are going to look at the history of depicting birds in art and share a selection of birds found on pieces in our current collection.

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Ibis from Egypt, circa 664-30 BCE 
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Birds have always held significance related to their ability to fly–it is a symbol of freedom, the connection between earth and sky, hope, and dreams.  Birds appear in art across all cultures and all ages: from the ancient Egyptian Ibis, shown above, to Joseph Wright of Derby’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump to Brancusi’s Bird in Space, the representation of these animals is varied and complex.  Donna Tart’s book, The Goldfinch, is centred around the small yet captivating painting by Carel Fabricius of the same title.

Have a look through below for a few examples of birds incorporated onto pieces of our collection.

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A Japanese Arita blue and white charger with birds 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

This very fine large scale Japanese blue and white charger from the early 18th century is decorated in the Chinese ‘Kraak’ style with a central image of a jardiniere of flowers and a scroll surrounded by birds.  The rim divided into eight panels featuring flowers and precious objects with abstract swirling clouds.

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One of a pair of George III library armchairs from Newhailes featuring Aubusson tapestry with a peacock 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

The peacock, depicted here on an 18th century Aubusson tapestry cover of the Newhailes armchairs, has long been a motif used in European art since the Renaissance, adored for its iridescent feathers and association with wealth, beauty, and rebirth.

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A 17th Century Cream Japanned Cabinet on Stand 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Archive

This very rare and fine European brass mounted polychrome and gilt japanned 17th century two door fitted cabinet on a Charles II carved giltwood is decorated throughout the exterior and interior with landscaped pagoda scenes incorporating figures, birds and imaginary creatures.  The cabinet decoration, of whimsical Oriental gardens with flowering shrubs, birds, and butterflies, relates to patterns issued in John Stalker and George Parker’s Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing of 1688.

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A Taxidermy Cased Monal Pheasant by Peter Spicer 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

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We wrote about this taxidermy cased Monal pheasant by Peter Spicer last month here.  The Monal pheasant comes from the Himalayas, and it is a stunning colourful member of the pheasant family. The Monal pheasant is the national bird of Nepal.

To see more birds in art and antiques, have a look at our Pinterest board below.

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