Bretby Heirlooms Sale, London, Christie's, 31 May 1918, lot 20 (as Hals);
Sir Felix Cassel, Bt.;
By whose executors sold, London, Christie's, 29 January 1954, lot 150;
There purchased by the father of the present owner.
As a young artist Jan Cossiers traveled to Aix-en-Provence and Rome, but in 1627 returned to Antwerp where he spent the rest of his career. His earliest works show the influence of the Caravaggesque movement in both subject matter and composition, though his brushwork was somewhat looser. By the mid-1630s he was an assistant in Rubens' studio, working on some of the latter's largest commissions, and the master's influence is clear in Cossier's subsequent paintings. He shook off the hard edges and clear lighting of the Caravaggisti and thoroughly absorbed the freer style of the Flemish Baroque.
In The Merry Company, Cossiers sets six figures around a table in a garden: a young man kissing the serving maid, a musical couple, and a boy bringing a prosperous older man a drink. The lute player dominates the scene, his predominantly black and white clothing contrasting with the more colorful dress of the other participants. He sits with his back towards us, the corner of his chair seeming to protrude out of the picture into our space. Cossiers heightens this spatial effect by looping the man's elaborate lace collar over the edge of the chair back, causing the material to ripple across his coat. Both the freedom of the brushwork and the subdued coloring suggest that The Merry Company is one of the artist's late works.
The composition was apparently very popular because two inferior versions recently appeared on the market: one at Madrid, Ansorena, 8 March 2001, lot 381, and the second at Amsterdam, Christie's, 13 April 2010, lot 36 (as Attributed to Jan Cossiers).
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