Lot 3
  • 3

Pieter Brueghel the Younger

700,000 - 1,000,000 GBP
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  • Pieter Brueghel the Younger
  • A village street with peasants dancing
  • signed lower right: .P. BREVGHEL.
  • oil on oak panel


Lord Belper, Kingston Hall, Nottingham;
By whom sold ('The Property of a Gentleman'), London, Christie's, 23 March 1973, lot 90, for 150,000 guineas to Leonard Koetser;
Private Collection, South Africa, by 1974;
Anonymous sale ('The Property of a South African Foundation'), London, Christie's, 7 July 1978, lot 217, for £260,000;
With David M. Koetser, Zurich;
Acquired from the above by the late owners on 20 November 1978 for 1 million Deutschmarks.


Johannesburg, Carlton Centre, 1974;
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brueghel. Une dynastie de peintres, 1980, no. 98.


J. Folie in P. Roberts-Jones (ed.), Bruegel. Une dynastie de peintres, exhibition catalogue, Brussels 1980, p. 158, no. 98, reproduced (as lent by David M. Koetser, Zurich);
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564–1637/8). Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, 2 vols, Lingen 2000, vol. II, pp. 837, 849,  871, no. E 1196*, reproduced figs 676 and 678 (detail).


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. Peasants Dancing in a Village. Signed. This painting is on a fine panel, bevelled on all sides, from a single piece of oak. It has remained beautifully flat and stable, with just a faint undulation although not a crack at upper centre right. The edges have minor traces of past rubbing from the frame, with a little retouching for example in the top right corner and at one or two little places along the top edge, with a minute line of old filling at the mid centre left of the top edge in the sky between the trees, but this is a minimal imperfection in an exceptionally intact, undamaged painting. The finest detail of the figures, receding into the distance along the central avenue, is extraordinarily complete and unworn, as is the delicate foliage against the sky and the fields. The minute draughtsmanship of lines defining the cottages in the middle distance, the farmyard ducks and hens, the luminosity of the nearby pond, the figures seated around a table, and all the delicate detail of village life is beautifully preserved. The main central dancers are also in very good condition indeed, with the rich colour and strong brushwork remarkably unworn. The very light original treatment of the ground around them and beneath their feet was always brushed on in almost transparent washes, sometimes showing the underlying drawing in places, contrasting with the strength of the figures themselves. This surrounding ground is always naturally the most fragile area and there has been some strengthening visible under ultra violet light around the central figures and just above around the little dog, with occasional slight wear in the ground elsewhere. There has been a discreet careful recent cleaning. 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

This is a rare example of a unique composition in Brueghel's oeuvre, and is entirely of his own devising. When sold from the Belper collection in 1973, it fetched the then huge sum of £157,500, and set an auction record for a work by Brueghel.  Five years later, in 1978, it broke its own record when it was sold for £260,000.

Although loosely related to the composition known in seven versions depicting peasants feasting before a long village street with the Swan Inn to the left, the composition of the present picture is known in no other versions.1 Another unique composition, found in a painting dating from before 1616 recorded as in a Spanish private collection, showing peasants feasting outside an inn to the left, also has as here an allée of trees receding to the horizon, a motif otherwise unknown in Brueghel's work.2

The principal figure group of a ring of dancers rotating counter-clockwise is also found in the centre of a much larger picture depicting the Kermesse of Saint George, dated 1628, sold at Sotheby's in London on the 8 December 2004, lot 11 (see fig. 2).3 The width of the figure group is approximately 50 cm in each picture, which suggests that the design is likely to have been transferred by tracing, as was the usual practice in Brueghel's atelier. This is borne out by the underdrawing of the present picture, revealed by infra-red imaging (see fig. 1).4 The underdrawing of the central figure group appears to have been done in two stages. The first is a characteristic outline which looks as if it was traced, while the second is freer as if working up the transferred design. The underdrawing of the buildings, trees and subsidiary figures is looser still and for the most part is clearly done freehand. 

The present picture is a late work. In any event the form of its signature places it after 1626, and the close relationship of the principal figure group with the 1628 Kermesse of Saint George suggests a dating around the same time. Klaus Ertz dates it to the end of the 1620s. 

The panel comprises two planks of oak of Western European, probably Netherlandish origin. A tree ring analysis conducted by Ian Tyers of Dendrochronological Consultancy Ltd. shows that the last growth ring is of 1607, and the earliest plausible date of use is thus circa 1615. His report, number 722, is avaialble on request.    

1.  See Ertz under Literature, vol. 2, pp. 834–36, 845–46, nos. E1179–1186, all reproduced. 
2.  Ibid., p. 849, no. E1195*, reproduced p. 838, fig. 673.  
3.  Ibid., p. 909, no. E1239, reproduced p. 870, fig. 703. This work also set an auction record for Pieter Brueghel the Younger, selling for £3.7 million.
4.  Conducted by Art Access Research.