Lot 23
  • 23

* Pieter Brueghel the Younger Brussels 1564 - 1637/8 Antwerp

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  • Pieter Brueghel the Younger
  • a winter landscape with the massacre of the innocents
  • signed lower right: P BRVEGEL
  • oil on panel, transferred to canvas (in 1911, according to a Russian inscription on the reverse)


Bought in Sweden from an old military family by Prince Wladimir Argoutinsky Dolgoroukof (1875-1941), and brought to St. Petersburg, presumably by 1911;
Baron Descamps, Brussels, by 1938, by whom sold, Paris, Palais d'Orsay, Ader Picard Takan, 28 March 1979, lot 144 (as Pieter Bruegel the Elder or Pieter Brueghel the Younger), for FF 1.7 million ($383,000), where acquired by the present owner.


G. Glück, Bruegels Gemälde, Vienna 1932, p. 72 (as possibly a replica by Pieter Bruegel the Elder of the Vienna picture);
L. van Puyvelde, "Un nouveau Massacre des Innocents de Pierre Bruegel l'Ancien", in Annuaire des Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, I, 1938, pp. 99-111 (as by Pieter Bruegel the Elder);
L. van Puyvelde, La Peinture Flamande au Siècle de Bosch et de Breughel, Paris 1962, pp. 99-111 (as by Pieter Bruegel the Elder);
P. Bianconi, The complete paintings of Bruegel, London 1969, pp. 103-4, 120, under no. 39 (with the Vienna picture as the original, but recording Grossmann's views that the Hampton Court picture is the original, and Van Puyvelde that the present version is authentic);
N. Coune et al., Bruegel - the painter and his world, Brussels 1969, p. 74, under cat. no. 32 (as a version of the Vienna picture);
G. Marlier, Pierre Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels 1969, pp. 67-8, 70, 72, 465 (as by Pieter Brueghel the Elder);
K. Demus et al., Flämische Malerei von Jan van Eyck bis Pieter Bruegel d. Ä, Katalog der Gemäldegalerie, Vienna 1981, p. 121;
L. Campbell, The Early Flemish Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Cambridge 1985, pp. 15-6 (as a derivation of the Hampton Court picture);
Y. Mori, in Bruegel, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo, Gallery Iida, 1986, cat. no. 1 (as Pieter Breugel the Elder or Pieter Brueghel the Younger);
K. Ertz, in Breughel-Brueghel, exhibition catalogue, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 7 December 1997 - 4 April 1998, p. 324 (as by Pieter Brueghel the Younger);
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere - Die Gemälde mit kritischem oeuvrekatalog, vol. I, Lingen 1998/2000, pp. 323, 324, 326, 352-353, cat. no. E296, reproduced fig. 232 (as by Pieter Brueghel the Younger).

Catalogue Note

This picture is one of many whose composition was devised by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and which was then painted in several versions by his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger.  The identification of the prime original by the Elder Bruegel has long been a source of discussion, and claims have been made in favour of the present picture as well as for versions in Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, and the Royal Collection, Hampton Court.  Glück, who maintained that the Vienna version was the prime original, considered the present picture to by an autograph replica by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  Leo van Puyvelde was the first to publish the present picture as Pieter Bruegel the Elder's prime version.  His opinion was given a ringing endorsement by Georges Marlier, who knew the painting in the Descamps collection, in his catalogue raisonné of the Younger Brueghel's work.

The Hampton Court picture was overlooked by many scholars because of its dirty state and it is only following recent cleaning that Lorne Campbell (see Literature) has been able to demonstrate convincingly that it is the prime version by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  Its provenance supports its primacy, since at its purchase for Charles II at Breda in 1660 from William Frizell, it was described as coming via Queen Christina of Sweden from the collection of Rudolf II at Prague, and is therefore almost certainly the Massacre of the Innocents by Pieter Bruegel the Elder mentioned by Van Mander in 1604 as in Rudolf's collection.  At such an early date, and in such a distinguished collection, it is unlikely that this could be one of the versions painted by Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

Versions of this composition by the Younger Brueghel are recorded at an early date, as Ertz (see Literature) has shown.  One such work, probably the Vienna picture, was recorded in an inventory at the Burg in Vienna between 1612 and 1618, and another is recorded in the 1614 inventory of the Valckenisse collection, as by the 'helschen Bruegel' (= Pieter Brueghel the Younger; see Ertz, op. cit., p. 324).  Marlier (op. cit., p. 73) lists seven further versions by Pieter Brueghel the Younger; more recently Ertz (see Literature) has enumerated fourteen versions, of which one, in Lons-Le-Saunier, Musée des Beaux-Arts, is signed: BRUEGHEL and dated 1593 (op. cit, p. 324, reproduced p. 326, fig. 2) making it the earliest dated work by the Younger Brueghel.

In the light of Lorne Campbell's findings about the Hampton Court picture, there exist two alternatives: that the present picture is, as Glück would have it, a replica by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and therefore contemporary or nearly so with the Hampton Court picture; or that it is by Pieter Brueghel the Younger  about thirty years later.  The form of the signature: BRUEGEL; is that of the Elder, which argues for the former of the two possibilities (it was formerly described as indistinctly dated: 15..; of this no traces remain).  There are, however, no universally accepted autograph second versions of compositions by the Elder Bruegel, and the style and handling of this picture are anyway more characteristic of the early work of Pieter Brueghel the Younger.  It seems far more likely, therefore, that it is by him rather than his father.

There is very little evidence of any means (such as pricking or tracing) of transfer of the design from, for example, a cartoon, as Campbell has argued (op.cit., p. 16), and the brushstrokes in the present picture follow those of the Hampton Court picture in several of the figures.  Thus one has the impression that Pieter Brueghel the Younger knew the prime version well, and had access to it.  Since no dated works by him are known before 1593, this raises questions about Pieter Brueghel's activities in relation to those of his father.  There is no evidence that Bruegel the Elder had a workshop, and if he did, certainly no indication that it continued to produced versions of his work after his death in 1569, and there cannot, therefore, have been any continuity of output between father and sons: Pieter Brueghel the Younger was four or five when his father died.  It is possible that Pieter Bruegel the Elder's original was still in the Netherlands in the 1590s, and that Pieter Brueghel the Younger painted this picture then before his father's original was sent to Prague.