A Concert By Cats, Owls, A Magpie And A Monkey In A Shed
48.5x48.5cm, Oil on panel
Cornelis Saftleven (1607-1681) was a Dutch Golden Age painter who worked in a great variety of genres. Known in particular for his rural genre scenes, his range of subjects was very wide and included portraits, farmhouse interiors, rural and beach scenes, landscapes with cattle, history paintings, scenes of Hell, allegories, satires and illustrations of proverbs. He also produced a large number of drawings and etchings.
Saftleven was born in Gorinchem and trained under his father, Herman Saftleven the Elder. He then travelled to Antwerp, where he worked in the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens. After returning to the Netherlands in the late 1630s, he settled in Rotterdam, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Saftleven’s paintings are characterized by their lively brushwork, vivid colors, and keen attention to detail. His genre scenes often depict peasants and farmers engaged in everyday activities, and his landscapes are typically of the Dutch countryside. He also produced a number of history paintings, including scenes from the Bible and classical mythology.
Saftleven’s work was highly respected during his lifetime, and he was a member of the Rotterdam Guild of Saint Luke. His paintings are held in major museum collections around the world, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
This work is a fascinating example of Saftleven’s engaging satire and peculiar subjects. In the painting a young man and a child are seen at the barn door watching a monkey conducting a chorus of cats, while an owl and a magpie are cheering them on. All the cats are wearing fine ribbons and collars, and one has an elaborate headpiece. The barn floor is strewn with playing cards, dice and bottles of alcoholic spirits, all referring to sinful idle life. In the 17th century cats, monkeys and magpies were all regarded as capricious and untrustworthy animals, while owls, who nowadays are the symbol of wisdom, marked ignorance and overindulgence. In fact, “zoo zot als een uyl” (“drunk as an owl”) was a popular Dutch idiom denoting the fact that an owl, accustomed to seeing at night, could not see clearly during daytime and would stumble around as if intoxicated. The moral lesson for the two characters in the doorway and for the viewer of Saftleven’s painting seems rather clear: a life of lassitude, indulgence and excessive enjoyment of pleasures is wasted and animalistic existence. Saftleven has painted at least one other version of this work. It has been suggested that it may be based upon a lost composition by Jan Brueghel the Elder. In those days it was natural that different authors were connected with each other and had obvious influence on each other’s works; thus the compositions of Saftleven reveal the influence of his contemporary, David Teniers the Younger, whose work had inspired him during his trip to Antwerp in 1632.
The Marquis of Lansdowne, Meikleour House
His sale (The Property of the Marquis of Lansdowne removed from Meikleour House), London, Christie’s, 8 July 1994, lot 63
Private collection, United States
Private collection, Zürich, Switzerland
W. Schulz, Cornelis Saftleven, 1607-1681. Lebun und Werke mit einem kritischen Katalog der Gemälde und Zeichnungen, Berlin and New York 1978, p. 195, no. 531;
P. Sutton, Pleasures of Collecting: Part I, Renaissance to Impressionist Masterpieces, exh. cat. Bruce Museum, Greenwich 2002, pp. 89-90, reproduced pp. 5 (in detail), 20;
P. Sutton, Old Master Paintings from the Hascoe Collection (exh. cat. Bruce Museum), Greenwich 2005, p. 16, no. 4, reproduced.
Greenwich, Connecticut, Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Pleasures of Collecting: Part I, Renaissance to Impressionist Masterpieces, 21 September 2002 – 5 January 2003;
Greenwich, Connecticut, Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Old Master Paintings from the Hascoe Collection, 2 April – 29 May 2005, no. 4.