This spectacular piece was painted by the Antwerp animal and still life painter Carstian Luyckx.1 Though scarcely known to the general public today, this versatile artist was successful and held in high regard in seventeenth-century Antwerp.2 In 1639/40 Luyckx was apprenticed to Philips de Marlier, a specialist in flower still lifes who had relocated to Antwerp after a stay in Portugal. Three years later Luyckx transferred to the studio of Frans Francken III, who worked in other genres besides flower still lifes and could therefore train the young man in a wider range of skills. Luyckx travelled to Lyon in 1644 at 21 years of age, returning a year later to marry. In 1645 he finally enrolled in the St Luke’s Guild in Antwerp, acquiring the right to work as an independent master.
That his career immediately soared may be concluded from a document from 1646 in Antwerp’s city archives, stating that Luyckx even worked for the king of Spain. In 1648 the artist remarried, and it is known that a son was born into this second marriage, in 1653.3 We find no mention of Luyckx in the archives after 1653, however, and our only source of information is his oeuvre. French signatures on later works suggest that Luyckx was also more active in southern regions, possibly even in France, but no conclusive evidence has been advanced to corroborate this as yet.4
It is difficult to acquire a good overview of Luyckx’s oeuvre, since the artist dated only two of his paintings, both of which were produced in 1650. This means that any chronology of his work must be inferred from the stylistic features of his known oeuvre. For instance, there is a discernible development towards a harder, more drawing-like style of painting. Fowl attacked by a fox, which was probably painted in the 1660s, is a splendid example of this late, more personal style of the experienced artist. The drawing-like quality of his painting style stands out clearly in the detailed plumage of the chickens and the fox’s red fur, each hair of which is painted individually. Although this style is fairly characteristic of Luyckx, it also reveals the clear influence of others, most notably the Antwerp artist Jan Fyt, who also painted fowl with near-pointillist precision.5 Fyt had trained with the famous animal and still life painter Frans Snijders, whose oeuvre also influenced Luyckx. Another source of inspiration would have been Jan Davidsz. de Heem (see cat. no. 25), who spent much of his life in Antwerp.
Fowl attacked by a fox occupies a unique position in Luyckx’s known oeuvre, since Luyckx presented himself mainly as a painter of still lifes, including flower, fruit, hunting, fish and vanitas pieces. Other works featuring poultry have been attributed to Luyckx, but these generally focus on fowl that have been shot in a landscape, frequently guarded by a hunting-dog. Luyckx also often included dogs and cats in his numerous still lifes with fruit and the spoils of hunting, something he had in common with Fyt and Snijders. Yet for all the presence of live animals, these images are relatively static in contrast to the drama and dynamism of Fowl attacked by a fox: besides witnessing the fox’s capture of a chicken, the viewer also sees the startled reaction of the rooster closest to the predator. The other fowl appear not yet to have registered the looming menace; even the chicken that has been bitten gazes at the viewer more in surprise than in the throes of death. This lively scene, combined with the directness of Luyckx’s style, produces a truly spectacular image, which is therefore one of his most attractive works.