RITA MOUNT, A.R.C.A.
A GATHERING CROWD, WINTER
oil on canvas
signed and indistinctly dated
20 ins x 22.25 ins; 55.9 cms x 50.8 cms
Musical manuals entitled the Bird Fancyer's Delight gained popularity in the 18th century. Containing sheets of music specifically written to play to pet bullfinches, canaries and linnets, these popular publications showed songbird keepers how to teach their birds to sing popular tunes on command. During training, melodies were often played on a bird organ or serinette (from the French word for canary, ‘serin’) – an instrument composed of a series of short, high-pitched pipes, producing “liquid trills” in the same register as bird song.
Even after the advent of recorded sound, and the spread of the phonograph, feathered friends were trained to add a unique and pleasing musicality to any space. During the 10-year period prior to 1915, over 3 million canaries were imported to North America. It is estimated that in the year 1914 that, on average, 1,000 birds were being imported per day to the United States alone.
In this painting by Rita Mount, curiosity is sparked by one such avian ami. A crowd gathers at the market – distracted from their mundane purchases and daily on-goings by the chirps and warbles of a trained bird. A flash of emerald green against the snow (given its colouration one would suspect the bird to be a green linnet or a parakeet), the cheerful bird’s song cuts through the cold of a winter day. Attended by its keeper, or bird fancier – whose dedication, and ongoing enthusiasm helped to cultivate its mellow and musical tones – the small creature acts as a welcome music box for the community.
Private Collection, U.S.A.