By whom sold, London, Sotheby’s, 12 July 1972, lot 44, sold for £38,000 to 'Pike';
With Galerie de Jonckheere, Geneva, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2008.
Brueghel has chosen to focus here on the no less rollicking aftermath of the kermesse. The disorderly procession of merry-makers that fills the foreground has made its way from the crowds congregating outside the church following the mass, the circle of figures still dancing with linked hands among the houses, villagers partaking in a game of hockey and archery practice, and what looks like an imminent sword fight, which a woman – perhaps the cause of the dispute – is attempting to intercept. A bagpipe player leads pairs of dancing couples up the muddy path as they glance to their right, where a man appears to have fallen foul of earlier indulgences and sits slumped against the tree, supported by a woman looking distinctly unamused, and a woman relieves herself, impertinently staring up at a rather despairing-looking man. Another couple is shown embracing in the hay-cart behind this group, and the foremost figures comprise a family, the child clutching its hobby-horse to its chest. In the lower left-hand corner some sort of business transaction appears to be taking place: a richly-dressed figure shakes hands with a more soberly-clad man, still holding his little flag from the festivities, while another man behind them rattles a handful of coins in his fist. The tree that Brueghel places so prominently in the foreground divides the composition into two sections and allows space to depict a more tranquil setting on the right – a path leading into the distance beside a canal, with a few couples barely visible, and a cripple begging alms from two women.
The popularity of this image is attested by the three variants of the composition that Brueghel produced, amounting to eighteen known autograph versions of the three types, of which two are signed and dated, nine are signed, and eight, including the present work, have no signature. The present iteration is among the group of works to include the stream and avenue of trees on the right, of which one was sold in these Rooms, 7 December 2016, lot 34;1 the second type replaces the full trunk found here with a broken tree and omits the stream, such as the painting in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels;2 and the third type includes a tavern on the right-hand side, an example of which was with Johnny van Haeften, London, in 2000.3
Rare in Brueghel the Younger's œuvre as a design independent of his father Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s influence – there are no known paintings or prints by the Elder which might have served as a model – Brueghel has nevertheless characteristically drawn on other artistic sources. Most closely related is Marten van Cleve’s drawing of a Landscape with peasants and sheep shearers, today in the Uffizi, Florence (fig. 1),4 from which the artist has borrowed a number of the protagonists: the group in discussion, lower left; the man who turns towards the family holding his rolled up streamer; the bagpipe-player and two of the dancing couples behind him; the couple supporting each other in front of the cart, and the cart itself; as well as the man who has sunk down and is now being propped up by the woman, lower right. The woman squatting and the man who looks back at her are found in an engraving by Pieter van der Borcht,5 from whose work the Younger often drew inspiration. Brueghel appropriates these motifs and makes them his own, using them to populate a landscape from his imagination in a scene where any number of recognisable human stories are to be found.
1 Signed lower left; oil on oak panel, 50 x 79 cm.; sold for £2,577,500.
2 Signed lower left; oil on oak panel, 48.3 x 78.5 cm.; inv. no. 10831; see Ertz 1988/2000, vol. 2, pp. 887 and 916, cat. no. E1298, reproduced p. 888, fig. 722.
3 Oil on canvas; see Ertz 1988/2000, vol. 2, pp. 889 and 917, cat. no. E1302a, reproduced.
4 See Ertz 1998/2000, vol. 2, p. 886, reproduced fig. 716.
5 See Ertz 1998/2000, vol. 2, p. 890, reproduced fig. 727.
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