While Brueghel the Younger quite clearly borrows directly from his father, it is in the implementation of these borrowed elements where his own creativity becomes apparent. Here, Brueghel quotes the group of eating figures from the New York Harvesters, though he chooses to omit the outstretched sleeper on the left. The landscape background, however, with the field of corn and the church tower appearing above the distant trees, as well as the figure holding a scythe with his back to the viewer, is derived from Bruegel the Elder's drawing in Hamburg. Few other paintings in the entire group follow this particular arrangement; the best being the present version, the picture formerly with P. de Boer, Amsterdam (dated 1624), and that sold London, Christie's, 3 July 2012, lot 41 (dated 1623).
Brueghel's compositional choices serve to imbue the picture with a feeling of calm and organized communal labor. Whereas in other versions which feature the larger left foreground worker, along with the expressive drinker at front, this variation features a more open and idyllic setting. Here, there is an unspoken and casual understanding between the active workers and the resting circle, each seemingly taking their turn to relax, thus focussing the attention of the viewer on the shared aspects of the work. In the versions with larger figures the viewer is asked to focus on the demanding physicality of the harvest. It is through these not so subtle differentiations that Brueghel the Younger expresses his own artistic creativity, and separates himself from his father as a thoughtful and deliberate interpreter of his predecessor's work.
Recent dendrochronological analysis of the tree ring sequence of the three boards which make up the panel suggest that the trees were likely to have been felled after circa 1584, with a usage date before circa 1616. The three boards were derived from different trees sourced from the eastern Baltic.2
1. See Literature, Ertz 2000, cat. nos. E.627-647.
2. 2. A full copy of the dendrochronology report by Ian Tyers is available upon request from the department and will be supplied to the buyer.
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