Lot 10
  • 10

Pieter Brueghel the Younger

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Pieter Brueghel the Younger
  • Winter landscape with a bird trap
  • signed and dated lower right: P . BREVGHEL 1626 .
  • Oil on oak panel
  • 40cm by 56cm


J. E. Weber;

His sale et al., Brussels, Fiévez, 21 December 1925, lot 23 (as Jan Brueghel the Elder);

There acquired  by Baron Coppée;

Thence by descent.




Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Exposition rétrospective du paysage flamand (XVIe, XVIIe, XVIIIe siècles), 1926, no. 74 ;

Worcester, Worcester Art Museum, 23 February – 12 March 1939 and Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection, 25 March – 26 April 1939, The Worcester Philadelphia exhibition of Flemish painting, no. 113;

Brussels, Galerie Robert Finck, Trente-trois tableaux de Pierre Brueghel le Jeune dans les collections privées belges, 1969, no. 23;

Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, Bruegel. Une dynastie de Peintres, 18 September – 18 November 1980, no. 88;

Tokyo, Tobu Museum of Art, The World of Bruegel. The Coppée Collection and Eleven International Museums, 29 March – 25 June 1995, no. B28;


G. Glück, Das große Bruegel-Werk, Vienna and Munich 1963, no. 43, reproduced;

G. Marlier, Pierre Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels 1969, p. 242, no. 3, reproduced fig. 152;

The Worcester Philadelphia exhibition of Flemish painting, exhibition catalogue, Worcester 1939, no. 113;

Paris, Galerie d’Art St. Honoré, 1986–87, p. 18, under cat. no. 6 (cited by Ertz, 1998–2000, below);

S. Leclercq et al., La Collection Coppée, Liège 1991, pp. 63–67, reproduced;

M. Wilmotte, in the catalogue of the exhibition The World of Bruegel. The Coppée Collection and Eleven International Museums, Tokyo 1995, p. 109, no. B28, reproduced;

K. Ertz, in the exhibition catalogue, BreughelBrueghel, Essen, Kulturstiftung and Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Lingen 1997, p. 383;

K. Ertz, in the exhibition catalogue, BreughelBrueghel, Essen, Kulturstiftung and Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Lingen 1998, p. 370;

K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere 15641637/1638. Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Lingen 1998–2000, vol. I, pp. 578, 581 and vol. II, pp. 605–06, cat. no. E. 687, reproduced;

C. Currie and D. Allart, The Brueg[H]el Phenomenon, Brussels 2012, vol. II, pp. 341–42, 485–523, 928–29, 995–99, 1001, 1007, 1012–13, 1018, 1020, reproduced figs 100, 103, 106, 302, 307, 311–13, 316, 319, 321–22, 325–26, 328, 661, 668.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap. Signed and dated 1626. This painting is on a fine oak panel in a single piece. It has remained beautifully stable and flat, with a single brief crack at the lower right corner just above the signature. The varnish is mature but still translucent, and probably dates from fairly early in the last century. The beautiful preservation of the paint surface reflects the calm background of the painting with a minimum of intervention over time. The transparency of the fine films of paint has increased naturally giving further luminosity. There is scarcely any sign of retouching, apart from a few narrow lines in the sky to mute one or two old scratches. The varnish is opaque to ultra violet light and there may be a few small old retouches in the foreground ice, with a little also along the extreme outer top edge. The exquisite preservation of the detail is very rare, every interlacing branch and crest of snow along each twig is perfectly intact, as are the finest details of each figure including the delicate little flight into Egypt on the far bank of the river. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

There can be little doubt that the Winter landscape with a bird trap is not only one of the best loved of all the inventions of the Brueghel dynasty, but in its beautiful evocation of a winter’s day also one of the most enduring images in Western art. Although no fewer than 127 versions of the composition have survived, only forty-five are now thought of as autograph works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger himself, with the remainder being largely workshop copies of varying degrees of quality.1 The Coppée painting is one of only eight panels which have the distinction of being both signed and dated, and being painted in 1626 is the latest in date of those so far known.2 Eleven further copies are signed, with four using the signature form P. BRVEGHEL used by Pieter Brueghel the Younger up to 1616, and three others using the form adopted here of P. BREVGHEL, indicating works executed in or after this date when his signature form changed. Ertz rightly describes this example as '...besonders strahlende und Helle Version gehört zu denbesten Vogelfallen' ('...this exceptionally light and luminous version is one of the best examples of the Bird Trap').


The prototype for this famous composition has generally thought to be the painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, signed and dated 1564, formerly in the Delporte collection and today in the Musées des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.3 The near-identical scale and the close correspondence of motifs between the painted copies and the original indicate very strongly that the former must have been based upon Bruegel the Elder's final painted composition, a master cartoon or at least very accurate tracings. The underdrawing on the Coppée panel (fig. 4) indicates beautifully the care and precision with which this was undertaken, and is here very possibly by Brueghel the Younger himself. The recent appearance of a drawing of the composition, sold in these Rooms in 2009 and recently attributed to Jan Brueghel the Elder by Klaus Ertz, would seem to indicate that he too had access to an original painting.4 The origins of the prototype itself undoubtedly lay in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s seminal cycle of paintings of the Months, and in particular his celebrated Hunters in the snow (January) of 1565, today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.5


The Winter landscape with a bird trap owes its fame to its extraordinary rendering of the atmosphere of a cold winter’s day. In contrast to the clear and biting cold of the Hunters in the snow, here the atmosphere is more misty and welcoming. A blanket of deep snow lies upon a riverside village and the surrounding countryside. On the frozen river the villagers are seen playing at spinning tops, hockey and curling on the ice. The muted palette of greys, blues and pale greens is offset by the red costumes worn by many of the participants, a painterly device which harks back directly to Pieter Brueghel the Elder. But perhaps the most distinctive feature of the painting is the graphic and patterned quality of the overlapping branches of the trees and bushes, which serve to create a wonderful decorative effect. Although the scene is largely imaginary, Marlier suggested a possible identification of the village as Pede-Saint-Anne in Brabant.5 The city seen in silhouette on the horizon in the centre is almost certainly intended for Antwerp. As Marlier was the first to observe, one feature of the Coppée panel is, however, rare among the many versions of the Bird Trap. This is the inclusion of the figures of man leading a woman upon a donkey on the far bank of the river on the left hand side of the composition, presumably intended to represent the figures of Joseph and Mary on their way to Bethlehem (fig. 2). Again, the inclusion of such a small but iconographically significant detail within the larger compositon is very much a device employed by the elder Bruegel. Only four other certainly autograph versions include this detail; that in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp, another last recorded in the Hartmann collection in Rome in 1954, and those sold London, Christie’s, 9 December 1995, lot 9, and 4 July 1997, lot 32.6 It is not to be found, however, in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s own painting of 1565 in Brussels, nor any of the many purely workshop copies, and seems to have been an invention of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s. This very small group also include the additional motif of a man leading a mule across the bridge in the distance (fig. 3).


It has often been suggested that the Winter landscape with a bird trap, for all its realism, also contains an underlying message alluding to the precariousness of life. In one of his engravings of Winter  Ice skating before St. George's Gate, Antwerp, Pieter Bruegel the Elder added the inscription: 'Lubricitas Vitæ Humanæ. La lubricité de la vie humaine. De slibberachtigeyt van’s Menschen Leven' ('The precariousness of Human Life') referring to the ways in which people find themselves 'slipping and sliding through a life whose existence is more slippery and fragile than ice itself'. The eponymous bird trap itself has also, for example, been interpreted as symbolic of the brevity of life, but is much more likely to be a straightforward detail alluding to the need to lay in food for the winter months. Nevertheless the hole in the ice, or the figures of the two children running heedlessly towards their parents across the ice despite the latter’s warning cries, all clearly point to the dangers inherent in even this idyllic winter scene, and thereby the fickleness and basic uncertainty of life itself.


A note on the panel support 

The recent and extremely thorough examination of the Coppée Bird trap, undertaken by Christina Currie and Dominique Allart at  the IRPA in Brussels, and its comparison with versions in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh, a Belgian private collection, and the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, afford us an unprecedented wealth of technical detail regarding the construction and execution of these panels.8 Dendrochronological examination has revealed that both the Coppée panel and that in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp were cut from the same tree. The last annual ring measured is from 1593, giving the year 1607 as the earliest possible date for the tree felling and the making of the panel. This is rather earlier than one might expect for panels that were completed in 1622(?) and 1626 respectively, but it is supported by the fact that the Antwerp panel bears on the reverse the brand of the panel maker's Guild in Antwerp in use between 1617 and 1626. Though all the studied examples were similarly painted on single board oak panels, with a white ground and grey imprimatura, the authors note that the Coppée panel was 'accorded particular care at the level and preparation of the paint layer', which 'may well represent the Master's own hand'. They note that the version 'stands out as being of a consistently higher quality than the others over a wide range of motifs'.




1. K. Ertz, see Literature, 2000, vol. II, pp. 605–30, cat. nos E682 to A805a, many reproduced.

2. The earliest, that now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, is dated 1601.

3. F. Grossmann, Brueghel. The Paintings, London 1956, p. 119, no. 114. For a good summary of this debate see Ertz, op. cit., 2000, vol. II, pp. 575–87.

4. Sale, London, Sotheby's, 8 July 2009, lot 32, reproduced (as Circle of Pieter Breugel the Elder).

5. F. Grossmann, op. cit. 1956, pp. 196–98, figs 87–90.

6. Marlier, in the catalogue of the exhibition, Le Siècle de Brueghel, Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, 1963, p. 69.

7. Listed in Currie and Allart, op. cit., 2012, vol. II, pp. 511, 522, n. 53. Ertz, op. cit. 2000, pp. 605–17, nos A685, A691–2, A704.

8. Currie and Allart, op. cit., 2012, vol. II, pp. 185–219, figs 302–338b.