Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s renown for still-lifes and hunting scenes can be traced back to an enthusiastic review at the annual Exposition de la Jeunesse that was held on the feast of Corpus Christi in the Palace Dauphine, Paris in the early 1720s. His depictions of the spoils of the hunt were impressive not only for their rich and naturalistic depiction of objects and figures, but also for the ingenious arrangement of objects and overall composition.
The enthusiasm of his supporters following the Exposition attracted the attention of the court, specifically the organization of the royal hunt (a sport that was quickly gaining favor in the eyes of Louis XV). Subsequently, Oudry was provided with a studio in the Tuileries and began receiving numerous royal commissions.
Oudry’s continued success both with the court and at the Salon of 1725 (featuring 12 of his pictures) led him to secure a job as the painter to the royal tapestry works at Beauvais. The next ten years of Oudry’s career were characterized by his great accomplishments in tapestries culminating in his appointment as Director at Beauvais in 1734. Throughout his career, Oudry continued to draw and produce pictures of both landscapes and animals always with a strict dedication to plein air naturalism.
Though drawings were often produced as preparatory studies for paintings or tapestries, Oudry was known for creating numerous drawings that were intended as finished works of art as well as copies of his own work. Oudry also had a habit of maintaining a private collection of his own works. He often delayed selling a piece, opting to keep his best works and selling instead a copy or variant which he had produced after the execution of the original.
Still Life with Fish and Parrot is recognized as an example of this copying process that was so central to Oudry’s artistic practice. The original Still Life with Fish and Parrot remained in Oudry’s private collection after its exhibition in the Salon of 1725, and was likely not sold until his death (as was the case with many of his pictures). It is plausible then, that this drawing was copied directly from the original that was housed in his studio. And in fact, though now lost, there remains a detailed description of the original picture (executed in 1724), which exactly matches the details of the drawing (executed in 1740) now in the Cooper Hewitt’s collection.
This drawing was executed using Oudry’s preferred materials of black and white chalk on blue laid paper. He depicts a beautifully entangled mass of marine life watched over by a parrot perched on the remains of a ruined stone wall. In an innovative twist on the characteristic conventions of le genre pittoresque, Oudry juxtaposes a live parrot with the now dead carcasses of a fishing haul, to artfully display the tension between nature and artifice. This composition prompts a subtle meditative response, perhaps even a melancholic consideration of beauty and death.