His sale, Leiden, Pieter van den Eyk, 24 September 1764, lot 1, for 180 florins, to Caauw;
Pieter Caauw, Leiden;
His posthumous sale, Leiden, Luchtmans, 24 August 1768, lot 9, for 115 florins, to Schouman;
Private collection, Amsterdam, from which sold, for 1600 florins, to
Baron Johan Giijsbert Verstolk van Soelen (1776–1845), The Hague;
Thence by inheritance to his heirs and sold along with 98 other paintings in 1846 (through John Chaplin, London) for £11,776, to a consortium of Humphrey St. John-Mildmay (1794–1853), Samuel Jones-Loyd (1796–1883), and Thomas Baring;
Thomas Baring, M.P. (1799–1873), London;
By whom bequeathed to his nephew, Thomas George Baring, 1st Earl of Northbrook (1826–1904), London and Stratton Park, Hampshire;
Thence by inheritance to his son, Francis George Baring, 2nd Earl of Northbrook (1850–1929), London and Stratton Park, Hampshire, until 1928 or 1929;
P. van Leeuwen Boomkamp, Huizen;
Thence by descent to the present owners.
G. F. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, vol. II, London 1854, p. 184, cat. no. 4;
T. van Westrheene, Jan Steen. Étude sur l'art en Hollande, The Hague 1856, p. 115, cat. no. 67;
W. H. J. Weale and J. P. Richter, Descriptive catalogue of the collection of pictures belonging to the Earl of Northbrook, London 1889, p. 71, cat. no. 99;
C. Hofstede de Groot, A catalogue raisonné... etc., vol. I, London 1907, p. 82, cat. no. 288;
K. Braun, Alle tot nu toe bekende Schilderijen van Jan Steen, Rotterdam 1980, p. 138, cat. no. 350, reproduced p. 139;
W. T. Kloek, in G. M. C. Jansen (ed.), Jan Steen. Schilder en verteller, exhibition catalogue, Zwolle 1996, pp. 231 and 234, under cat. no. 41, note 7.
To Steen’s Dutch contemporaries this spectacle of utter disarray, set in a recognisably mundane context, was the ultimate vermaak (amusement), and the artist’s intuitive genius for narrative and comedy is no less eye-catching for 21st-century viewers. One can merely imagine the possible reasons why the schoolmaster in this classroom is able to remain asleep while complete havoc is wreaked around him. Steen’s talent for storytelling is given free rein in this composition, in which the children fill the entire scene, let loose to take as much advantage of their teacher as possible. The boy beside him has stolen his glasses and pokes his own pipe through his cap, while another blows on what looks like a pea-shooter with full force towards the master’s face. Children in the background wield improvised weapons at a woman who has come to investigate the commotion, while another boy has already climbed victoriously onto a table, swinging a lantern and singing cheerfully, the girl at his feet appearing to beat time with a wooden spoon while her companion makes a nonsense of recitation. Next to them a boy keeps hold of a pig he has let into the classroom, which has placidly begun to eat up the children’s schoolwork. And these misdemeanours appear as nothing in comparison to the exploits of the youngsters in the foreground, one of whom urinates into an earthenware jug held by his friend, while another wipes the bottom of a child and holds the soiled cloth up to her schoolmaster’s nose.
The painting belongs to a long tradition of schoolroom representations, which find their origin in a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The Ass in School, in which misdemeanant children surround their teacher while a donkey sings from a sheet of music at the window, was popularised and widely disseminated through a print by Pieter van der Heyden, from 1557.1 The subject enjoyed particular popularity with the Haarlem painters, such as Jan Miense Molenaer and the brothers Adriaen and Isaak van Ostade.2 It is hardly surprising therefore that, having lived in Haarlem from 1661–70, Steen was compelled to produce his own versions of the scene, especially with the scope it provided for inventive, multi-figure arrangements and narrative detail. An early example painted in his Haarlem years, circa 1663–65, is in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin;3 another, slightly later painting, circa 1665–68, was sold in these rooms, 6 December 1989, lot 59; and a larger, more elaborate composition is in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, datable to about 1668–70.4 In this last painting, the schoolmaster is not asleep, but short-sightedly sharpens his quill while his charges run riot in the classroom, including a boy singing on a table not unlike the figure in the present work.
This panel was painted after Steen had returned to his native city of Leiden in 1670, following the death of his father. Stylistically, it relates closely to the Cockfight in an inn, formerly in the Markiezenhof, Bergen op Zoom, which is dated just a year after the present work.5 By this time, Steen’s technique had become looser but more assured than ever, and just as with another painting of 1672 of almost identical dimensions to this panel – The Peasant Wedding, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam6 – he clearly favoured a strong horizontal composition with defined figure groups to the right or left of the scene, with a detailed foreground and somewhat cruder figures added to the crowd. Indeed, in contrast to his earlier paintings, in which a moral undercurrent flows beneath the superficial mayhem, these genre pictures seem to focus on unadulterated, shameless entertainment.
Although Steen’s paintings have always remained popular in the face of fluctuations of taste and fashion, this explicit humour of his later paintings was sometimes modified to suit a more prudish inclination. The present picture is no exception. Old illustrations show that changes were made to the young boy on the left, so that he was no longer shown relieving himself, but rather pouring from a small jug into the larger one, to which the letters ‘INKT’ were added; and the dirty cloth held up by the girl next to them was turned into a bunch of birch, while the child’s bottom was neatly covered up (fig. 1). At what time these alterations were carried out is unclear, but it seems plausible that they occurred after the painting had entered Baring’s collection in 1846. Hofstede de Groot was aware of the revisions when he published the painting in 1907, due to an old copy in the Musée d’Art, Nîmes, which still represented the original composition.7 The painting was brought back to its original state in the 1960s.
When this painting was acquired by Thomas Baring, it was one of a group of 43 Dutch masterpieces belonging to the late Baron Johan Gijsbert Verstolk van Soelen, which Baring bought together with his cousin Humphrey St. John-Mildmay and Samuel Jones-Loyd, later 1st Baron Overstone. Baring, who was MP for Huntingdon and a partner in the family bank, had inherited an instinct for connoisseurship from both his father, Sir Thomas Baring and his grandfather, Sir Francis Baring, 1st Bt., who had formed a remarkable collection of Dutch pictures.8 When his father died in 1848, Baring enlarged his own collection with the Italian, Spanish and French pictures that had belonged to him: Antonello da Messina’s Saint Jerome in his study, today in the National Gallery, London;9 a Ribera; five Murillos; and three paintings by Claude Lorrain, including Ascanius shooting the stag of Sylvia, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford,10 to name but a few. He also obtained other important Dutch paintings, such as Gabriel Mestu’s The Intruder, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington,11 and Michiel van Musscher’s An artist in his studio, acquired in the last ten years by the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna. Baring continued to add regularly to his collection until 1871, and after his death in 1873 it was inherited by his nephew, the 1st Earl of Northbrook.
1. See Jansen 1996, p. 231, reproduced fig. 1.
2. For example, Adriaen’s The Schoolmaster, 1662, in the Musée du Louvre, Paris; and Isaak’s The Classroom, 1644, of unknown whereabouts; see Jansen 1996, p. 233, reproduced figs 2 and 3.
3. See H. Potterton, Dutch Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland. A complete catalogue, Dublin 1986, pp. 145–48, cat. no. 226, reproduced.
4. See Jansen 1996, pp. 231–34, cat. no. 41, reproduced in colour p. 232.
5. See Braun 1980, p. 138, cat. no. 353, reproduced in colour p. 75 and p. 139, fig. 353.
6. Inv. no. A388; see P. J. J. van Thiel et al., All the paintings of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. A completely illustrated catalogue, Amsterdam 1976, p. 522, cat. no. A388, reproduced.
7. See Hofstede de Groot 1907, p. 82, cat. nos 288 and 289.
8. See G. Jackson-Stops (ed.), The Treasure Houses of Britain, five hundred years of private patronage and art collecting, New Haven 1985, pp. 368–69.
9. Inv. no. NG1418.
10. Inv. no. WA1926.1.
11. Inv. no. 1937.1.57.
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