Abraham Meertens
Middelburg 1757-1823 Middelburg
A Common Guillemot, in Winter Plumage, facing the Sea, standing on the Coast

PROVENANCE: Donald M. Bonnist, Mamaroneck, New York; Private collection, USA.

Pencil and watercolour, watermark Strasburg Lily with LCV below, stamped on verso MADE IN HOLLAND, in upper right corner, inscribed on verso in pencil Zee Koet half levens groot

440 x 282 mm. (17 3/8 x 11 in.)


The common murre or common guillemot (Uria aalge) is a large auk. It is also known as the thin-billed murre in North America. It has a circumpolar distribution, occurring in low-Arctic and boreal waters in the North-Atlantic and North Pacific. It spends most of its time at sea, only coming to land to breed on rocky cliff shores or islands. Common murres have fast direct flight but are not very agile. They are more manoeuvrable underwater, typically diving to depths of 3060 metres. Common murres breed in colonies at high densities, nesting pairs may be in bodily contact with their neighbours.

In 1972 the late Laurens Bol, then director of the Dordrechts museum and specialist on Aart Schouman, was invited to examine a group of about 100 watercolours of birds and animals which were believed to be by Schouman. The Hague dealer and collector Saam Nystad was asked to go in his place. Nystad established that they were not by Schouman but by his follower, Abraham Meertens. Nystad acquired the bulk of this group. It was at the insistence of the United States customs authorities that the MADE IN HOLLAND stamp was applied to the back of all the drawings1. Meertens entered the Academy in Middelburg in 1770 and was one its founders and later one of its directors.

Our drawing is typical of Abraham Meertens style and compares well to many of the artists works. The subject of our drawing was probably chosen from one of the fashionable menageries, such as the richly maintained royal collection of the Stadholder Prince Willem V at the Kleine Loo, in The Hague, and at the Oude Loo near Apeldoorn.1

1. Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis, and Dordrechts Museum 1994-5, Kleur & Raffinement. Tekeningen uit de Unicorno collectie, exhib. cat., p.26 and pp.118-9, cat.54. Another drawing from this group is now in a private collection, see Crispian Riley-Smith, Master Drawings, 7 July-12 July 2002, number 12 of A Black Cock and a Grey Hen.