Such summer landscapes with harvesters, known in contemporary inventories as heykens - hay harvests - were clearly amongst De Momper's most popular picture types for he painted a very large number of them, of varying sizes, throughout the 1610s and '20s. Almost all follow the same compositional arrangement, with a hay or corn field set on gently rising ground above a valley floor. They too are often populated by the same figures: the man in the lower right, with scythe raised, wearing red breeches, white chemise and a wide-brimmed hat, is found in several other works such as the picture described by Benedict Nicolson as "one of the finest Joos de Momper's in existence", formerly at Locko Park.1 Harvesting scenes had appeared in calendars since the Middle Ages, illustrating the labours of the months. This painting however, like most of De Momper's harvest scenes, does not specifically represent a month but could be generally regarded as an allegory of summer, as Ertz has also suggested.
De Momper's landscape is populated by a vast assortment of farm labourers. Men cut the tall corn with scythes while women bundle it, to be loaded onto the approaching cart. Three women cross the bridge to the farm, their rakes cast over their shoulders, and approach a shepherd herding his flock in their direction. In the stream beneath, sheep are washed and dipped and beside them under a tumbledown shelter, others have their coats sheared. Quite apart from allegorising summer, the picture glorifies country living for an urban class of patrons eager for a window into the rural idyll.
Though this painting was not known to Klaus Ertz when compiling his 1986 catalogue raisonné on the works of Joos de Momper, he subsequently confirmed the attribution prior to the 1989 sale. In his certificate, dated 6 July 1989, Ertz gives the staffage to Jan Brueghel the Elder.
1. Sold, London, Sotheby's, 6 December 1995, lot 36.