Work of Art: Swan Attacked by a Dog
Jean-Baptiste Oudry
French
1686-1755
Swan Attacked by a Dog
1745
Oil on canvas
70 x 82 in. (177.8 x 208.3 cm)
Purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest)

Oudry made an excellent living filling commissions for noble patrons, especially King Louis XV, whose favor he won by creating hunting scenes with realistic drama. Louis also appreciated Oudry’s “portraits” of his favorite hunting dogs, whose names were sometimes prominently inscribed in the paintings. Eighteenth-century critics interpreted Oudry’s animal paintings as if they were history subjects and judged them as they would scenes of human conflict and emotion. The artist was also much admired in his own day for his virtuosic handling of white-on-white areas, such as the feathers of the swan, which include a marvelous range of shades and tones.

This painting has been substantially altered from its original format. The animals fill the foreground so fully that the picture’s edges appear truncated. A drawing of the composition by Oudry reveals that the painting was cut down from a vertical format almost twice as high as the present canvas, probably to conform to the dimensions of a room. The original composition included a dead boar hung from a tree. On close examination of the painting, the outline of the boar’s head and leg can be detected, painted over, against the stone wall.

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