The play describes how a pretty village girl (Swaantje), resident of the farming village of Puyterveen (‘Frog moor’), falls pregnant as a result of a love affair with a young gentleman, Squire Jan. In an effort to cover up the liason, Swaantje accuses a feckless local lad, Fobert, of being the father of the child, and demands that he marry her. Fobert’s father, a well-to-do peat farmer, will have none of it, so the dispute goes before the local court. The drawing shows the moment when the useless lawyer Carel makes his case for Fobert and his father, who stand to the left. To the right, surely not accidentally placed before the bed, we see Swaantje and Squire Jan and in the centre the seedy figure of the lawyer, Jacobus, who is representing her side of the argument. Any hopes of this being a fair trial are not, though, encouraged by the fact that one of the aldermen judging the case is already fast asleep, his head resting on his folded arms.
Technically, the particular combination of coloured chalks and vellum support that we see here is extremely unusual in Troost’s work, but he was an immensely original artist who experimented with his media at every turn, and there are a number of other work in which he uses the chosen media in unprecedented ways.
Troost frequently made variants of his most popular compositions, and this is no exception. A large triptych, in the Amsterdam Museum, depicts more or less the same scene, though with numerous variations of detail.1 The triptych is dated 1727, and is one of the artist’s earliest representations of a theatrical subject. Around a dozen other depictions of the same scene are known, all somewhat different in composition and details, and four of them are dated, between 1736 and 1744.2 The considerable number of versions that Troost made of this composition are testament to its wide and enduring appeal, and that of popular theatre in general in The Netherlands during the 18th century.
1. Amsterdam Museum, inv. no. A 27928 1-3; see Niemeijer, op. cit., no. 289 S, and E. Buijsen and J.W. Niemeijer, Cornelis Troost and the Theatre of his Time, plays of the 18th century, exhib. cat., The Hague, Mauritshuis, 1993, pp. 40-41, no. 5
2. J.W. Niemeijer, op. cit., 1973, nos. 289 T – 300 T
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