In this large-scale painting, a variety of birds and animals are portrayed in a landscape environment at nearly life-size. At the right, a pair of long-necked, long-legged herons flashes black and white plumage, frogs and a duck splash at the muddy edge of a pond or stream, and a red fox with a bushy tail sits under a leafy tree at left. The artist’s care and skill for depicting natural textures and patterns make the painting an almost believable study of creatures in their natural habitat.
But what is really happening here? A giant, clear glass jar dominates the center of the painting, and has the full attention of all the creatures. One of the herons thrusts its long beak into the narrow mouth of the jar, which holds fish and frogs in water. The fox watches, his mouth hanging open. In addition, a second fox and heron appear in the background at left, in very similar poses, but gathered around a large, shallow bowl. These very real-looking animals are not acting like real animals at all! This proves the painting’s actual purpose: teaching a moral, or an important life lesson, by illustrating Aesop’s Fable of The Fox and the Crane.