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David de Coninck, Dead Birds and Game with Gun Dogs and a Little Owl

Key facts
Full title Dead Birds and Game with Gun Dogs and a Little Owl
Artist David de Coninck
Artist dates about 1643/5 - 1699 or later
Date made probably about 1672-94
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 96.2 × 133.5 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence, Bt, 1902
Inventory number NG1903
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Dead Birds and Game with Gun Dogs and a Little Owl
David de Coninck

Against the setting sun, three hunting dogs rest beside an overflowing basket of dead birds and game. The two on the right are chained up; one sniffs the ground or laps water from an unseen bowl while the other stares, distracted, out of the picture frame. The unchained dog looks quizzically at a little owl, a type commonly used as a decoy bird during hunting, which stares unblinkingly out at us.

The distinct plumage of song thrushes, jays and a redstart, as well as a duck and a partridge, are visible in the pile of dead birds. A dead hare lies prominently on its back across the birds. Stiff with rigor mortis, its position echoes that of the shotgun lying across its blood-flecked body.

While a naturalistic still life, the scene invites the viewer to address the hierarchy of nature: the dominance of humans and their weapons, the subservience of the trained hunting dogs and the owl, and the vulnerability of their unfortunate prey. Birds who escaped the shoot fly in the sky above, free for now.

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