PIETER HOLSTEYN II (Haarlem c.1614 – 1673 Amsterdam)

Pieter Holsteyn II

Pieter Holsteyn II (Haarlem c.1614 – 1673 Amsterdam)

Study of an Island Canary

Pen and grey ink, watercolour, brown ink framing lines, 156 x 197 mm (6.1 x 7.8 inch)

Signed with monogram ‘PH [in ligature] fe.’ (pen and grey ink, lower left)

Inscribed ‘Se… Kanarij’ (pencil, verso)

Private collection, The Netherlands


Pieter Holsteyn was born in Haarlem around 1614 as the son of the artist Pieter Holsteyn the Elder (c.1580–1662) and Marritge Cornelisdr.1 Pieter the Elder was active as a designer of cartoons for tapestries, as an engraver and as a town glazier; he was the teacher of Pieter Holsteyn the Younger and his other, younger son Cornelis Holsteyn (1618–1658), who also became an artist. While Cornelis mostly painted pastoral scenes in the Italianate manner, Pieter the Younger was almost exclusively active as a draughtsman, specialising in meticulous drawing and watercolours of animals, flowers and plants.

An album with a large group of approximately 150 drawings of birds, reptiles and other animals is preserved in the Noord-Hollands Archief in Haarlem, bequeathed in 1888 by Adriaan Justus Enschedé.2 A nearly identical depiction of a canary bird is part of this collection, also sitting on a branch, thought to have been drawn circa 1656-1667 (fig.).3 Yet another very similar watercolour is preserved in the Rijksprentenkabinet of the Rijksmuseum, thought to depict a wild or island canary bird, originally from the Canary Islands, part of the volière belonging to Prince Maurits of Orange in The Hague, where Holsteyn could have studied it (fig.).4 Although the birds are nearly identical in our drawing and those in the Noord-Hollands Archief and the Rijksprentenkabinet, Holsteyn varied the leaves of the branch and the indication of a natural setting underneath. As with the sheet in Haarlem, drawings like these were probably original made in sets, contained in albums, collected by amateurs of natural history.5

1. For the artist, see Theo Vignau-Wilberg, Pieter Holsteyn the younger, Haarlem 1614-1673 Amsterdam: alderhande kruypende en vliegende gedierten, Munich 2013 and Michael Bischoff, Eine Menagerie auf Papier: der niederländische Tierzeichner Pieter Holsteyn d.j. (um 1614 – 1673), exh. cat. Lemgo (Weserrenaissance-Museum Schloss Brake) 2011.
2. Many monogrammed ‘PH. Fe’, generally circa 160 x 199 mm, inv. no. 53-002970 K.
3. Watercolour, 156 x 197 mm, inv. no. 41998. 
4. Watercolour, 147 x 185 mm, inv. no. RP-T-1918-55. 
5. We are grateful to Klaas Post and Kees Moeliker of the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam for their help.