When looking at all five panels together, it is clear that the protagonists represent the five senses. The Man with Pince-Nez, like the paintings in Prague, is set in a village or small town. A single, standing man dominates the foreground, while other figures are in the background, but only as staffage. The men are decently dressed and appear more likely to be burghers than peasants, although the figure in The Sense of Taste appears somewhat more rakish, perhaps as a result of his drinking (fig. 1). However, comparing the present work and Taste it is clear that they belong to the same series. In addition to the overall compositional similarities, such details as the placement of the figure in relation to the building and the treatment of the bricks and ivy, bespeak a consistent approach to the subject matter. Ostade made a number of other series of the Five Senses including two in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
During the course of his career, Ostade’s portrayal of the local populous shifted, from satirical depictions of drunken, brawling men and women to a more sympathetic view, recognizing the value of country life. He depicted his subjects as more well-behaved and a bit more prosperous, as we see here in A Man with Pince-Nez. As his subject matter evolved, so did his technique, and from around 1650 he began to work in a more refined style with a greater emphasis on local color. In the present work he used short, quick brush strokes to delineate the folds of the man’s blue jacket and his graying curls, as well as the leaves of the vine at the left. However, his absolute mastery of the medium can be seen in his treatment of the wall, where he colors the bricks with flicks of pink and red over a darker ground and then adds the mortar in thin squiggles of white to create its uneven surface.
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