Lot 35
  • 35

Pieter Brueghel the Younger

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
236,750 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Pieter Brueghel the Younger
  • The fat peasant and the peddler: a Flemish proverb
  • signed lower centre: P. BRVEGHEL
  • oil on copper
  • diameter: 20.4 cm.; 8 in.


Carl Geldner (1841–1920), Basel;

By descent to his son Max Geldner (1875–1958) Basel;

Thence by inheritance to the present owner.


G. Schmidt, Gemälde Sammlung Carl Geldner Basel, private publication, Basel 1905, no. 19 (as Pieter Breughel the Elder).

Catalogue Note

Pieter Brueghel painted a large number of roundels on this scale depicting Flemish proverbs. The meaning of this one, which shows a fat peasant wearing two caps seated on a bench next to a peddler, is not entirely clear to us today but would likely have been immediately recognisable to Brueghel’s clients. However, it likely has as its underlying message that of human folly. The painting has undergone infra-red reflectography which reveals under-drawing consistent with the practice of the Brueghel workshop. It is unpublished having been hidden away as part of the same private collection for the last one hundred years or so and has seemingly never been exhibited.

Brueghel painted at least four other versions of this composition.1 It may derive from a lost drawing by Pieter Breugel the Elder but the only certainties as to its source lie in two drawings, one of which is by an anonymous hand but dated 1573 and the other which Ertz attributes tentatively to Pieter Brueghel the Younger himself.2 An engraving by Hieronymous Wiericx seems to be after the latter drawing. Though Brueghel did usually find his sources in his father’s drawings, prints and paintings, the absence of an extant Pieter Breugel the Elder prototype here suggests that this may be one of the few examples of his finding his inspiration outside of his father’s œuvre. That Brueghel has varied the backgrounds in the known versions would also argue in favour of it being his own invention for in those works that follow his father he is almost always loyal to the original. The background of this painting is the same as the version, also signed, formerly with Scheidwimmer, a simplified version of which was recently sold in Vienna.3 The background of the drawing and the print and at least one of the painted versions shows a narrow street, with housing on either side, opening out into a square in the distance.

The subject has been variously interpreted as ‘Every peddler praises his goods’; ‘Betrayal returns to its master‘; and Ertz’s preferred ‘The fat farmer and the salesman’. Wiericx’s engraving includes two inscriptions that suggest a dialogue between the two, pointing to the dishonesty of the peddler and the unwillingness of the ‘farmer’ to relent to his persuasion. The dishonesty of the peddler is further suggested by his chosen wares: nets and flutes were commonly symbols of ‘catching’ or ‘cheating’ a buyer, while the jaw harps – ‘trompen’ – were often used to denote betrayal or deception because of their etymological link to the French verb  ‘tromper’ – to deceive. The idiocy of the farmer is alluded to by his wearing two hats but as yet he seems not to have been taken in by this deceptive peddler.

Note on Provenance
Carl Geldner was a successful  industrialist who founded the Basel Kohleunion. He passed his love of art and collecting on to his son Max, who as a schoolboy accompanied his father on a journey to Bavaria and Franconia in order to study art. Carl Geldner began assembling a major collection of Dutch seventeenth-century Golden Age paintings from 1910. From 1935 he was advised by Dr Hans Schneider-Christ, the founder and director of the RKD Netherlands Institute for Art History, acquiring major works by Gerard David, Pieter de Hooch, Rembrandt, Barend van Orley and Adriaen Isenbrandt. He also bought important paintings by contemporary Swiss artists such as Ferdinand Hodler and Cuno Amiet. Georg Schmidt described the way the collector carefully separated the works in his house in the Langen Gasse in Basel; in the entrance and main reception rooms hung the contemporary works, in his study the old master collection and then in further rooms the old master paintings he had inherited from his father. Max Geldner, who had no direct heirs, made a bequest of the majority of his collection to the Kunstmuseum in Basel in 1958 and also founded the Max Geldner Foundation, which to this day continues to support the museum.

1. K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564–1637/38). Die Gemälde mit kritischem Œvrekatalog, Lingen 1988/2000, vol. I, pp. 197–98, cat. nos. E56–E59.

2. Ertz 1988/2000, p. 97, figs 46 and 47 respectively.

3. Sale, Vienna, Dorotheum, 18 October 2016, lot 10.