Lot 27
  • 27

Pieter Brueghel the Younger

1,500,000 - 2,500,000 USD
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  • Pieter Brueghel the Younger
  • The Bird Trap
  • oil on panel


Anonymous sale (“The Property of a Nobleman”), London, Christie’s, 11 December 1981, lot 81;
With Koetser Gallery, Zurich, 1990. 


Georges Marlier, Pierre Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels 1969, p. 247, cat. no. 39;  
Klaus Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngerer (1564-1637/8).  Die Gemälde mit kritischem oeuvrekatalog, Luca verlag Lingen 1988/200, vol. II, p. 620-621, cat. no. E724, reproduced. 


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work has been quite recently restored. Given the fact that the restoration and varnish are good, cleaning is not necessarily encouraged, although the paint layer may brighten slightly if cleaned. The reverse of the panel has been cradled. The surface is flat and stable. No restorations are clearly visible under ultraviolet light due to the fluorescent nature of the varnish. However, it can be seen that some thinness and loss has been retouched in the upper left sky and a diagonal scrape or crack has been repaired in the lower left sky. There are restorations in the upper right corner. There is a slightly uneven texture on the far left side in the lower half, but this is probably a texture from the gesso layer rather than any damage. There also seems to be restoration in the snow covered rooftops above the willow tree in the center of the right side. There is a crack or join running horizontally through the exact center of the work. The restoration is very fine and hard to identify. There is no apparent reason to re-examine this work, overall the painting is in very good condition.
"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 composition of The Bird Trap is one of the most popular created by the Brueghel family.  The prototype has generally been thought to be the painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, signed BRVEGEL and dated 1565, formerly in the F. Delporte collection and now in the Musées des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. More recently, however, Klaus Ertz has proposed that the prototype may be a lost work by Jan Brueghel the Elder, inspired by Pieter Breugel the Elder's celebrated Hunters in the Snow, also of 1565 and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.  Pieter Brueghel the Younger and his busy studio produced numerous copies and variations of the composition (see  pp. 605-21, nos. E682-E725). The earliest known dated version by Brueghel the Younger is the painting dated 1601 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna;  the latest dated version, formerly in the collection of Baron Coppée, Brussels, is dated 1626.  Georges Marlier, in the catalogue of the exhibition Le Siècle de Brueghel (Brussels, Musèes Royaux des Beaux-Arts, September 27-November 24, 1963, p. 69) suggests that the village depicted as Pede-Ste-Anne in Brabant.

It has been suggested that the underlying subject of The Bird Trap is the precariousness of life, which is marked by the birds total ignorance to the threat of the trap that awaits them. This notion is furthered by the image of the carefree skaters playing upon the fragile ice seemingly unconcerned by the potential danger of it cracking. The exact meaning of this popular scene is not entirely clear although the deliberate allusions to the brevity and transience of life would have been an intentional moralizing reference following in the tradition of the artist's father.  Another, more straightforward reading of composition is the literal depiction of gathering food for the winter. It may be that Brueghel did not intend for any symbolic meaning at all in such a scene, although his famous print of Ice-skating before Saint George's Gate Antwerp carried an inscription referring to the ways in which people find themselves 'slipping and slithering through a life whose basis is more ephemeral and fragile than ice'.  There has also been speculation made that the bird trap alludes to the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands at this time. Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Bird Trap in Brussels is dated 1565, which is only one year before the popular iconoclastic uprising against the Spanish authorities. The Duke of Alba was sent to repress the risings, done in a very high minded and sometimes brutal manner. The leitmotif of The Bird Trap has often been interpreted as a parallel to the repressive Spanish regime that continued to ensnare the people of the Netherlands throughout the lifetime of both Pieter Brueghel the Elder and his son.