© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2013.171
People
Johannes Bronckhorst, Dutch (Leiden, Netherlands 1648 - 1727 Hoorn, Netherlands)
Title
Two East Indian Birds
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Hummingbird and Bird of Paradise
Classification
Drawings
Work Type
drawing
Date
17th century
Culture
Dutch
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Transparent and opaque watercolor over graphite on parchment, framing line in brown ink
Dimensions
28.9 x 34.7 cm (11 3/8 x 13 11/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: gray wash, center left: J. v. B fe:
  • inscription: former mat, printed cutout from publication stamped with red ink, interior, lower right: [red ink stamp] 1965 / [printed text] 6 / Johannes van Bronchorst / Leiden 1648--1727 Hoorn [in italics] / A bird of paradise and a humming-bird / Gouache on parchment, 290 : 346 mm [in italics] / Signed with monogram [in italics]
  • inscription: former mat, interior, lower right, graphite: neg 989 / 0525g
  • inscription: former mat, interior, lower right, graphite: Bronkhorst 33159.17
  • inscription: former mat, verso, upper left, black ink: 15
  • watermark: none
Provenance
[Bernard Houthakker Gallery, Amsterdam] sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1965 (without their mark, L. 3306); The Maida and George Abrams Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Gift of George S. Abrams in memory of Anthony Lewis, Harvard Class of 1948.
Published Text
Catalogue
Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums
Authors
William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson
Publisher
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016)

Catalogue entry no. 14 by Susan Anderson:

A baker by trade and a self-taught draftsman by leisure, Johannes Bronckhorst produced fine watercolors of ornithological and zoological subjects. Although he trained as a pastry chef in Haarlem, Bronckhorst set up shop in 1670 in the northern port city of Hoorn. The Dutch East India Company ships that docked in Hoorn’s harbor brought countless curiosities from around the globe, including natural history specimens. Bronckhorst was among a small group of artists who depicted these rare and beautiful treasures.

In this sheet, Bronckhorst portrayed two birds from far-flung points in the former Dutch East Indies now comprising the Indonesian archipelago. On the left is a Little Spiderhunter (Arachnothera longirostra, subspecies nisus [?]), indigenous to Nias Island, part of the Greater Sunda Islands off the west coast of Sumatra. At the right is a Buru Paradise-Kingfisher (Tanysiptera galatea acis), known only on Buru Island, which is immediately to the west of the settlement of Ambon in the Molucca Islands. Ambon, located in the east, served as a hub for the spice trade pursued by the Portuguese and later by the Dutch, whereas Nias Island is located on Indonesia’s westernmost margins, closer to the Indian Ocean. Bronckhorst’s drawings are so detailed that each bird is easily recognized, and in many cases, including here, the works predate written taxonomic studies by roughly a century.1

In addition to their scientific importance, Bronckhorst’s ornithological watercolors stand as artistic compositions. He frequently perched his birds on tree branches within minimal landscapes, and although he worked from preserved specimens by necessity, he depicted the birds in dynamic postures—both characteristics being precursors to Aert Schouman’s watercolors of birds from the mid-eighteenth century (see 1985.196). Here, the elegant, curving tail of the kingfisher continues its arc through the cocked head and slightly open beak, and its vibrant blue plumage provides eye-catching visual contrast to the smaller and modestly colored spiderhunter. Both specimens are repeated almost exactly in a watercolor by Bronckhorst’s amateur student, Herman Henstenburgh (1667–1726), also a baker and chef in Hoorn. The kingfisher appears in mirror image and the spiderhunter opens its beak to catch a flying insect; a King Bird of Paradise (Cicinnurius regius) accompanies them at the right (Fig. 1).2 Henstenburgh again depicted these two birds in very similar poses in two other sheets, the kingfisher perched alone in a drawing in Florence, and the open-beaked spiderhunter positioned underneath the King Bird of Paradise on a more pictorial sheet in the collection of Clement C. Moore, New York.3 Although the student may have copied from the master, more likely each artist drew from the same preserved specimens. Among the various depictions of each bird, slight differences in color and minor details in plumage suggest that artistic interpretation did play a small role in these documentary—yet aesthetically pleasing—works. Along with other prominent natural history draftsmen of their time, Bronckhorst and Henstenburgh are known to have drawn, on commission, from Dutch art collector–horticulturalist Agneta Block’s collection of flora and fauna during the last decades of the seventeenth century4 (see 1999.169).

Notes

1 Douglas Causey, former senior vertebrate biologist at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, identified these species and provided further scientific information. See William Robinson, Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection (London: British Museum; Paris: Institut Néerlandais; Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, 2002), cat. 106, pp. 238–29.

2 Herman Henstenburgh, Three East Indian Birds (Fig. 1), transparent watercolor, 291 × 347 mm, sold Sotheby’s, London, 3 July 1996, lot 221. For more on the King Bird of Paradise, see Jane Shoaf Turner in Rembrandt’s World: Dutch Drawings from the Clement C. Moore Collection (New York: The Morgan Library & Museum, 2012), cat. 78, pp. 186–87, repr.

3 Herman Henstenburgh, Kingfisher, opaque watercolor on parchment, 290 × 400 mm, Florence, Galleria Palatina, 1890; Herman Henstenburgh, A King Bird of Paradise and a Little Spiderhunter, transparent and opaque watercolor with gum arabic over graphite on parchment, 300 × 241 mm, Clement C. Moore Collection, New York; see Turner, cat. 85, pp. 200–1, repr., and Anne M. Zaal, Herman Henstenburgh (1667–1726) (Hoorn, Netherlands, 1991), p. 8, repr. Turner also notes that the spiderhunter is erroneously named, as its long, curved bill is instead used for extracting nectar from flowers.

4 Zaal, p. 12, and Laurens J. Bol, Bekoring van het kleine (Amsterdam, 1963), p. 9.

Figures
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
The Maida and George Abrams Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Gift of George S. Abrams in memory of Anthony Lewis, Harvard Class of 1948
Accession Year
2013
Object Number
2013.171
Division
European and American Art
Contact
am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu
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Publication History

Master Drawings exhibited by Bernard Houthakker, auct. cat. (Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1965), cat. no 6, n.p., repr.

Franklin W. Robinson, Selections from the Collection of Dutch Drawings of Maida and George Abrams, exh. cat., Jewett Arts Center (Wellesley, MA, 1969), cat. 38, repr.

The Draughtsman at Work. Drawing in the Golden Century of Dutch Art, checklist (unpublished, 1980), no. 26

William W. Robinson, Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2002), cat. no. 106, pp. 238-39 and 271, repr.

Michiel C. Plomp, "[Review] Bruegel to Rembrandt. Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection.", Oud Holland (2004), vol. 117, no. 1/2, pp. 99-102, p. 101 (n. 3)

Jane Turner, Rembrandt's World: Dutch Drawings from the Clement C. Moore Collection, exh. cat., The Morgan Library & Museum (2012), under cat. no. 85, p. 200

William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), cat. no. 14, pp. 67-69, repr. p. 68

Exhibition History

Selections from the Collection of Dutch Drawings of Maida and George Abrams, Hopkins Center Art Galleries, Hanover, 03/27/1969 - 04/28/1969; Wellesley College Museum of Art, Wellesley, 05/04/1969 - 06/04/1969; Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 09/17/1969 - 10/12/1969; University of Connecticut Museum of Art, Storrs, 10/18/1969 - 11/16/1969

The Draughtsman at Work. Drawing in the Golden Century of Dutch Art, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 11/21/1980 - 01/04/1981

Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, British Museum, London, 06/13/2002 - 09/22/2002; Institut Néerlandais, Paris, 10/10/2002 - 12/08/2002; Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/22/2003 - 07/06/2003

32Q: 2300 Dutch & Flemish, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/09/2017 - 09/08/2017

Subjects and Contexts

Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu