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Work Study of a Crowned Crane

Department of Paintings: Flemish painting

Etude d'une grue couronnée

©2001 RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Flemish painting

Collange Adeline

This study of a crowned crane, a bird of Arfrican origin also called the "royal bird", was painted from life at the menagerie at Versailles. It belongs to a collection of "naturalist" works painted by Boel to serve as models for royal tapestries woven at the Manufacture des Gobelins.

A painter at the Versailles menagerie

The work of Pieter Boel, a painter of Flemish origin, revolutionized animal painting. Before him, artists had contented themselves with making static studies from stuffed animals for their emblems and allegories. Boel drew and painted his animals from life in the menagerie at Versailles. The menagerie, where he probably set up a makeshift studio, was a small octagonal pavilion surrounded by enclosures in which exotic and domestic animals were kept in semi-liberty. It is thought he often made studies directly onto canvas, without preliminary drawings. Here he represents a crowned crane, a bird of African origin also known as the "royal bird".

Nature and painting

With careful attention to detail, Boel notes the species' different particularities: light eyes ringed with black, finesse, downy lightness of the feather, the graceful neck. But his faithful renditions are far more than mere detailed inventories. He represents animals in their natural, characteristic poses. This study shows the crane in motion, leaning forward, one leg folded, with the other foot spread for optimum balance. The splendid plumage also enables Boel to play on the strong color contrasts between the white, red and black. His free and lively way of applying color shows the true painter beneath the careful observer and clearly sets him apart from a mere scientific illustrator.

A talented member of Charles Le Brun's team of painters

Pieter Boel belonged to the team of specialized painters who worked on Charles Le Brun's tapestry cartoons for the Manufacture des Gobelins. His animal studies were used as models for the animals in the foreground of the large The Months tapestry, also called The Royal Houses. The motif of the crowned crane is precisely copied in the tapestry that depicts the month of August. The Gobelins workshops were well aware of the value of Boel's animal repertoire and carefully kept his entire set of painted and drawn studies. Another great painter, François Desportes, copied several of them, including this crowned crane (Musée International de la Chasse, Gien). But Boel's legacy surpasses the mere copying of his models: his naturalism and painterly liberty heralded a long line of great animal artists to come, from the painter Jean-Baptiste Oudry to the sculptor Antoine Barye.


Foucart Walter Elisabeth, Pieter Boel, 1622 - 1674, peintre des animaux de Louis XIV : le fonds des études peintes des Gobelins, catalogue de l'exposition, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2001, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, (Exposition-dossier du département des Peintures ; 60), 2001, p.88-89.

Technical description

  • Pieter BOEL (Anvers, 1622 - Paris, 1674)

    Etude d'une grue couronnée

  • H. : 1,01 m. ; L. : 0,80 m.

  • Collection de Louis XIV ; inventorié à la manufacture des Gobelins à Paris, 1690 (comme Boel)

    INV. 3973

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Rubens and 17th-century Flemish painting
    Room 802

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