Boar Hunt & Stag Hunt (Paintings are paired)
(Jean-Baptiste Oudry)


Jean Locquin was apparently the only Oudry scholar to have seen these two remarkable panels until they surfaced again after an absence of eighty years. Their inclusion in the later catalogues of Vergnet-Ruiz and Opperman was only on the faith of Locquin’s opinion and the inadequate reproductions in the sale catalogue of 1906. In fact, there was at first some concern about their authenticity, but a sensitive cleaning and revarnishing has removed all doubts.[1] The pictures, although unusual on several counts, are in excellent condition and clearly by Oudry himself.

Oudry’s works on panel are rare. With the exception of one or two executed late in his career, when he sought a high degree of finish and must have appreciated the smooth, grainless surface of carefully prepared wood, the surviving examples are all decorative panels for coaches or musical instruments, sometimes in a lacquer-like technique on white or even gold grounds.[2] These two hunts fall into neither category. One would like to see them as projects for larger works – presentation models with a commission in mind, not preparatory sketches – and there is some evidence that this is indeed the case.

Although the documentation is incomplete, it has long been believed that the Stag Hunt is the model for a picture that appears for the first time in a memorandum of 1737, listing a number of works painted for Louis XV in the preceding years. It is described there as un cerf arrêté par plusieurs chiens sur fond de paysage, with dimensions that correspond to 2.41 meters high by 1.70 wide.[3] This picture had a chequered history. Already in storage at the surintendence des bâtiments at Versailles in 1737, it was probably the picture unsuccessfully enlarged by Oudry himself and installed in the dining-room at La Muette in 1746, only to be removed and replaced by his monumental Wild Sow and her Young attacked by Mastiffs (Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts) just two years later.[4] To our knowledge, it was not exhibited again until sent from the reserves of the Louvre to the Strasbourg Museum by decree of 1819. It perished in the bombardments of that city in 1870. The Strasbourg picture, like ours, was signed and dated 1731. No visual record survives, but old descriptions suggest that the two pictures are closely related, if not identical in all points. According to the description given by Jean Locquin,[5] the Strasbroug picture showed ‘un cerf blanc mouncheté… arrêté par des chiens … de grandeur naturelle, debout, tourné de profile vers la gauche’. In our picture the stag, turned to the right rather than the left, has already been brought to the ground. The dimensions of the Strasbourg painting were 2.64 by 1.95, i.e., a little larger than the picture from the 1737 memo. Had it kept the additions from 1746?

For those accustomed to the decorative exuberances and fantasy of the artist’s animal and still life subjects of the previous decade, these two hunts appear much more controlled in composition and palette. Tonalities of red-brown and yellow-green dominate, ‘natural’ earth colours that contrast markedly with the vivid pinks, hot oranges and bluish greens of his earlier Rococo style.[6] Rather than a play of broken and asymmetrically inter-responding curves – the compositional formula, for example, of his hunts of 1725 for Chantilly-Oudry here employs an almost anti-Rococo principle, establishing a greater credibility with bold movements carried through along straighter and more continuous lines of force, and angles clearly stated. There are also passages of a lighter and redeeming charm, such as the salmon flushes in the sky and the gracefully intertwining trees. Such touches notwithstanding, our little panels are among the first of Oudry’s works to bear witness to a greater sense of direct observation, the distinguishing characteristic of his later oeuvre.

Why the change? There may be no simple answer to this question, but it is useful to recall that in 1731 Oudry was between commissions from the Crown and that by temperament, one might say, he was always angling for something new to do. He had just completed the important picture of Louis XV Hunting the Stag in the Forest of St.-Germain (Toulouse, Musée des Augustins), commissioned in 1728 and installed at Marly in 1730, but its natural consequence – the celebrated Chasse royales de Louis XV – were to be commissioned only in 1733. These works were his most original as a painter of the hunt, for François Desportes, his great rival who died only in 1743 and who had long since firmly established himself as the premier painter of hunting scenes for Louis XIV and Louis XV, did not include figures of hunters and horses in his compositions. It could be that in hunts without figures Oudry felt he came off second best. The anti-Rococo qualities we have noted can just as easily be called pre-Rococo, that is, they have more in common with Desportes and his seventeenth century Flemish predecessors in the genre than they do with Oudry’s own hunt pictures of the 1720s. That Oudry had been unable to unseat Desportes may have had more than a little to do with his decision to emulate the older master’s greater sense of verisimilitude here.

Evidence of circumstance suggests then that Oudry painted these two panels in 1731 in an attempt to catch the eye of the Duc d’Antin, Directeur des Bâtiments du Roi. His first sketches for the Chasses Royales (Paris, Musée Nissim de Camondo) in 1733 served the same purpose. Their signatures, finely drawn with the tip of the brush and inconspicuously placed, closely resemble those of our panels. It would also seem that Oudry was successful, although only one of the two subjects The Stag Hunt – was chosen for execution on a large scale, perhaps because of its more interesting composition. The Boar Hunt is less completely thought through, perhaps even hastily executed, as suggested by the unfinished foliage above. But the main reason for choosing the Stag Hunt was probably its unusual subject, un cerf blanc moucheté arrêté par des chiens, as the large picture was described in an inventory of the last half of the eighteenth century at Versailles.[7] The cerf blanc is not a separate species, but rather an unusual form of the common stag of Europe (Cervus elaphus var. alba), a natural curiosity highly prized in private menageries and deer parks at the time. It is one of the most expensive of the animals priced on a memo of about 1700 pertaining to purchases for the menagerie of Louis XIV – as expensive, for example, as a crocodile.[8] It was in 1729 that Oudry first painted rare animals from the royal menagerie at Versailles, in a picture of a Family of Axis Deer done for the cabinet doré of Louis XV at Versailles (Paris, Musée d’Histoire Naturelle), a practice he continued from then on, often on royal commission. The raison d’être of such pictures, as for so much of Oudry’s art in its bewildering variety, is this obsession with the notion of singularité, which is also the essence of Rococo and the primary distinction between the art of Oudry and that of his rival, Desportes.

Sold as one of a pair with The Stag hunt


[1] The paintings were examined in 1989 by Prof. H. N. Opperman who confirmed their autography.

[2] A pair of oval hunting scenes similar in type to the exhibited pair were on the Paris Art Market in 1995. A Bear Hunt on panel 61 93.5 cm was on the Paris Art Market in December 1998.

[3] cf., Fernand Engerand, Inventaire des tableaux commandés et achêtés par la direction des Bâtiments du Roi (1709-1792); Paris, 1900, p. 376.

[4] cf., discussion in J.-B. Oudry 1686-1792, exhibition catalogue by Hal Opperman, Paris; Grand Palais, 1982-1983, under no. 103; and Engerand, op. cit., pp. 369-370.

[5] op. cit. no. 266.

[6] cf., the two famous pictures of 1721 in the Wallace Collection.

[7] cf., Engerand, op. cit., p. 376.

[8] cf., a document published by Gustave Loisel, Histoire des menageries de l’antiquité à nos jours, three volumes, Paris, 1912, II, pp.357-358.

24 5/8 x 18 5/8 in. 62.5 x 47.3 cm (Boar Hunt) 23 3/8 x 18 5/8 in. 59.3 x 47.4 cm. (Stag Hunt)
Oil on Panel

PROVENANCE: Sale of Baron du Teil Haselt, Paris Hôtel Drouot, 19th March 1906, nos. 11 and 12; Bought by Koppen, Berlin, for 5790 francs; Sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 25th March 1987 as atelier de Jean-Baptiste Oudry.


LITERATURE: Jean Locquin, ‘Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre de Jean-Baptiste Oudry peintre du roi (1686-1755)’, in Archives de l’Art français, nouvelle periode, VI, 1912, I-viii, 1-209, nos. 267 (Stag Hunt) and 268 (Boar Hunt); Jean Vergnet-Ruiz, ‘Oudry’, in Les Peintres français du XVIIIe siecle, edited by Louis Dimier (2 volumes, Paris and Brussels, 1928-1930), II, 135-194, nos. 1, 10 (Stag Hunt) and 1, 45 (Boar Hunt); Hal N. Opperman, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 2 volumes, New York and London, 1977, I, pp. 423-424


EXHIBITED: London, Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd, French Paintings 1700-1840, 1989, pp. 26-31.
Matthiesen Gallery, ‘The Settecento’, 1998

Where is It?
Matthiesen Gallery
Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Genre or Daily Life
1999-Collectanea 1700-1800.
Hard back catalogue of the Exhibition held in London and New York, 220 pages fully illustrated with 46 colour plates. £30 or $40 inc. p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
$350,000 - $500,000