Most painters find a particular subject and they stick with it their whole life. The themes which dominate an artist’s oeuvre can be all sorts of things: doomed warriors, Christ’s love, dark beauty, prime numbers, death-in-life, imperious aristocrats,monstrous pride, melancholy flowers, unruly goddesses…you name it. In the case of Adolf Lins the great subject to which he devoted his life work was…well, it was domestic poultry. Lins was truly great at painting ducks, geese, and chickens. He demonstrates that maybe not every artist has to concentrate on the ineluctable nature of time or the chasm between desire and reality. His poultry paintings are still well loved (although he is not the subject of long biographies like many of his peers).
Lins studied at the Academy of Arts in Kassel. He later followed some fellow artists to Düsseldorf where it seems he fell in love with the gentle agrarian rhythms of the fertile farms by the Rhine. He lived from 1856 to 1927–and though Germany changed again and again in that time, he kept his eyes on the modest glory of the local ponds and fields.
Lins had a talent for painting verdant Rhine foliage and glittering pools. He was also proficient at painting apple-cheeked farm children and lissome goose-girls, but his real skills and interests lay in the depiction of the individual fowl which are the focal points of his paintings. Each bird has its own personality and is busied with its own pursuits. Cantankerous geese squawk and bicker about flock politics (while other disinterested geese preen themselves or nap). Mallards in a forest pool gather around a white domestic duck with a lambent yellow bill. Two roosters fluff out their feathers and lower their heads as they prepare to battle to the death for possession of the flock behind them. Lins’ works may not concern the massive ebb and flow of historical or philosophical concerns in the human world, but he deftly captures the very real struggles and delights of the lives of domesticated farm birds. The feathers and mud and beaks seem real–and so does the liveliness of flock life a century ago. Any contemporary poultry farmer can instantly recognize what is going on in a Lins painting and share a quiet smile with small stock owners across the gulf of time.