• A Young Rabbit and Partridge Hung by the Feet, 1751. Jean-Baptiste Oudry (French, 1686–1755). Oil on canvas; 55.7 x 46.4 cm. Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, Mrs. F. F. Prentiss Fund and Special Acquisitions Fund 1982.47
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A Young Rabbit and Partridge Hung by the Feet

The painting’s depiction of hunted animals for the use of sport and food is a fine example of the still lifes Oudry executed late in his career. As one of France’s leading dead game painters, both noblemen and kings commissioned his works to be hung in dining rooms or hunting lodges—an appropriate place for them to be viewed, especially during meals, for his images depict food waiting to be stripped and/or plucked for cooking. Oudry was an extremely successful and prolific painter, often exhibiting in France’s most prestigious public exhibition space, the Salon, where he showed twice as many paintings as any other artist of his time. He displayed this work at the Salon, which is said to have formed a pair with another now-lost painting of a jay and an oriole hung by the feet.

Although initially intending to become a portraitist, Oudry’s signature work began to take form when he painted dead birds with insects under the tutelage of Nicolas de Largillière (1656–1746). Largillière, a Flemish-trained painter, helped transmit to France the Dutch still life tradition from the previous century, thus explaining the close observation of nature seen in Oudry’s work.

Oudry, one of the foremost illusionistic painters of his time, also mastered the skill of trompe l’oeil (tricking the eye). A Young Rabbit and Partridge Hung by the Feet is misleadingly simple with its neutral background that displays Oudry’s interest in the principles of relative color and naturalistic shadows, which help to create the spatial illusion of the figures hanging a few inches away from their hook. Oudry uses no imposed structure or framing device for this suspended game, and he presents no contrasting colors in the background to enhance the subtle grays and browns of the animals. Oudry’s assured style, smooth brushstrokes, and close attention to details, such as in the subtle whiskers of the rabbit, all help to create an intensely quiet, harmonious and calm image. Viewers of the painting can thus easily envision themselves touching the fluffy rabbit fur, or plucking a feather from the partridge’s plumage.

Audio: Mirella Brussani, Oberlin College