Lot 12
  • 12

Pieter Brueghel the Younger

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Pieter Brueghel the Younger
  • The Outdoor Wedding Dance
  • Oil on oak panel
  • 41cm by 61.5cm


Acquired by Baron Coppée by 1923;1

Thence by descent.


Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruegel. Une dynastie de peintres, 18 September – 18 November 1980, no. 89;

Tokyo, Tobu Museum of Art, The World of Bruegel. The Coppée Collection and Eleven International Museums, 29 March – 25 June 1995, no. B25.


G. Marlier, Pierre Brughel le Jeune, Brussels 1969, p. 190. no. 15;

F. Van Hauwaert, 'La copie chez Pierre Brueghel le Jeune', in Revue des archéologues et historiens d'art de Louvain, s.l., 1978, pp. 87–99, reproduced fig. 4;

S. Leclercq et al., La Collection Coppée, Liège 1991, pp. 51–53, reproduced;

M. Wilmott, in the catalogue of the exhibition The World of Bruegel. The Coppée Collection and Eleven International Museums, Tokyo 1995, pp.100–01, no. B25, reproduced;

K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere. 15641637/8. Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Vol. II, Lingen 2000, pp. 684, 726, no. E935, reproduced;

C. Currie and D. Allart, The Brueg[H]el Phenomenon, Brussels 2012, Vol. II, pp. 341, 573 613, 731, 812, 83435, 854, 93031, 99599, 1001, 1010, 111819, figs 382, 388, 391, 392, 395, 398402, 40405, 41314, 416, 526, 583, 586, 660.


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. The Outdoor Wedding Dance. This painting is on a fine oak panel with one central joint. There is a fairly brief old crack from the right edge near the top, and the panel has been cradled perhaps fairly early in the twentieth century. The restoration may also date from that period, and there are traces of a previous frame down each side edge. The overall condition is remarkably good, with exceptionally well preserved original brushwork throughout, intact and unworn. Old restoration is only to be seen along the edges, for instance in the sky along the top outer edge, and along the original joint, which was evidently reglued when the cradle was added. This retouching has darkened over time, for instance on the Bagpipe to the right and by the central woman dancer's head, however this is superficial and the underlying original appears intact beneath. One other retouching over a knot in the wood is in the skirt of the dancer at lower left. The rich colour and fine detail, with original drawing sometimes characteristically visible as the paint grows gradually more transparent over time, remains in exceedingly good unworn condition virtually throughout. 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

The Outdoor Wedding Dance has long been recognised as one of the most popular works in Pieter Brueghel the Younger's œuvre, and indeed Georges Marlier, the great scholar of Flemish art, went so far as to describe it as 'one of the most popular of all subjects in Flemish painting at the beginning of the seventeenth century'.2 The extent of its popularity among Brueghel's patrons can readily be ascertained from the fact that over sixty extant versions have been assigned to his hand. Of these Klaus Ertz accepts nearly thirty as fully autograph works, including the present panel.3 Of these paintings, about half are signed and almost as many dated. The dated works range from two panels of 1607, today in Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery,  and Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts, to that of 1626 sold in these Rooms, 17 December 1998, lot 16.4 As Ertz ackowledges, although unsigned, the Coppée version is one of the finest to have survived ('zu den besten Versionen das Themas'), and remains in a remarkable state of preservation. Recent dendrochronological analysis of the oak panel suggests that the earliest the panel could have been constructed would have been around 1610, so a date of execution somewhere in the second decade of the century would seem most likely.5

Although no painting by him has come down to us, the composition of the Outdoor Wedding Dance clearly originated with the artist's father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, for it is recorded by an engraving in reverse by Pieter van der Heyden which was published by Hieronymous Cock (fig. 1). Brueghel the Younger has removed some of the peripheral figures, and thus created a more open composition, with more light and landscape details. Most of the known autograph versions are painted in reverse of van der Heyden's engraving, and thus were most probably copied directly from a lost original, either a drawing or perhaps a painting.6 The claim that the painting of 1566 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder today in the Detroit Institute of Arts could be the lost prototype is probably excluded by the numerous differences in the composition, which is itself in the  same sense as the print.7 As with many of the compositions painted by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, the design was most likely transferred by tracing, which serves to explain the proximity in size of all the panels on which the versions were painted. Evidence for the use of a tracing is provided here by the underdrawing, visible under infra-red reflectography (fig. 2). In the absence of a painted original, Pieter Brueghel the Younger would probably have worked from the detailed drawings his father had made in preparation for his paintings and for his engravers.

The Outdoor Wedding Dance is one of a group of pictures painted by the Brueghels which depict different episodes during a wedding day, a tradition founded by Pieter Breugel the Elder, whose Wedding Banquet of 1568 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) is undoubtedly the most famous example. Here the bride is shown seated at a table in the centre background of the picture, before a sheet strung between two trees and beneath a painted crown that honours her as 'Queen' for the day. She is intent on receiving gifts from her guests, while her family and friends avidly look on and a careful reckoning is made. Around her the other guests dance and talk, and in some cases, answer a call of nature. It is highly doubtful whether, as some writers have claimed, the Brueghels ever intended a serious moral undertone in works such as this, warning, for example, of the attendant perils of over-indulgence, lust or greed. Rather they should be regarded as epitomising that wry and sharply observed combination of naturalism and humour that has ensured that their popularity has remained undiminished from their own day to this.

1. According to Leclercq (see Literature 1991), a certificate of authenticity signed by J. Destrée and Jean Decoen, dated 5 December 1923, was recorded in the Coppée family archives, thus providing a terminus ante quem for the acquisition of this work.

2. See Marlier under Literature, 1969, p. 188.

3. Ertz, op. cit., 2000, pp. 684–96 and 722–36, nos. E916–944 and F945–979, many reproduced.

4. Ibid, nos E916, 917 and 930.

5. See Currie and Allart under Literature, 2012, vol. II, p. 576. The Coppée panel is of Baltic oak and has a last heartwood ring of 1601 but no sapwood; allowing for a minimum of 9 missing sapwood rings would produce a terminus post quem of 1610 for felling and panel-making.

6. Some examples of those which follow the sense of the engraving are listed by Marlier, op. cit., p. 193. Others include a group of panels which may be the work of Maerten van Cleve or his workshop.

7. Reproduced in F. Grossmann, Pieter Bruegel. The Paintings, London 1955, pp. 199–200, fig. 125.