Property from a Private Collection
PIETER BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER
Brussels 1564 - 1637/8 Antwerp
Head of a peasant, wearing a black cap
signed centre left: BREVGHEL
oil on oak panel, circular
diameter: 14.2 cm.; 5⅝ in.
The circular panel is slightly bowed. It is uncradled, but supported with a vertical, metal baton affixed to a block on the reverse and a circular surround. The paint surface is clean and the varnish is clear and even. There is a tiny paint loss, centre left, visible in the catalogue illustration. Much of the underdrawing in the man's face has become visible to the naked eye. Inspection under ultraviolet light reveals a milky varnish, beneath which it is possible to discern small, cosmetic retouchings scattered through parts of his face and hat, around the upper margin, and his jacket, with a slightly more concentrated area in the centre of the lower margin. None of these distract from the legibility of the image, and the painting is in overall good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
With Rosenberg, New York;
Guillaume de Gontaut-Biron, marquis de Biron (1859–1939), Geneva;
With A. Brod, London;
Baron Claus-Detlof von Oertzen (1894–1991), Johannesburg, by 1973;
Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Lady of Title'), London, Sotheby's, 8 December 1993, lot 205 (as follower of Pieter Bruegel the Elder);
With Galerie d'Art St. Honoré, Paris, 1994.
Essen, Kulturstiftung Ruhr, Villa Hügel, 16 August – 16 November 1997; and Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 7 December 1997 – 14 April 1998, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere – Jan Brueghel der Ältere. Flämische Malerei um 1600. Tradition und Fortschritt, no. 116;
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Pieter Brueghel le Jeune – Jan Brueghel l'Ancien. Une Famille de peintres flamands vers 1600, 3 May – 26 July 1998, no. 122;
Cremona, Museo Civico Ala Ponzone, Pieter Breughel Il Giovane (1564–1637/8) – Jan Brueghel Il Vecchio (1568–1625): tradizione e progresso: una famiglia di pittori fiamminghi tra Cinque e Seicento, 26 September – 20 December 1998, no. 19.
K. Ertz, Breughel – Brueghel. Flämische Malerei um 1600. Tradition und Fortschritt, exh. cat., Lingen 1997, pp. 364–66, cat. no. 116, reproduced in colour p. 365;
K. Ertz, Breughel – Brueghel. Une famille de peintres flamands vers 1600, exh. cat., Lingen 1998, pp. 344–47 and 352, cat. no. 122, reproduced in colour p. 345;
K. Ertz, Breughel – Brueghel, Tradizione e Progresso: una famiglia di pittori fiamminghi tra Cinque e Seicento, exh. cat., Cremona 1998, pp. 87–88, cat. no. 19, reproduced in colour p. 89;
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564–1637/38). Die Gemälde mit kritischem œuvrekatalog, Lingen 1988/2000, vol. II, p. 962, cat. no. E1380, pp. 783, 953–54, 958–60, and 962, reproduced in colour p. 938.
This painting is one of just four circular head studies by Pieter Brueghel the Younger.1 The only picture of the group to be signed in full, it is also considered by Klaus Ertz to be that of the best quality.2 Each of the roundels depicts not a portrait, but a character study, perhaps reflective of a particular humour or one of the Seven Deadly Sins (though their varying dimensions exclude the possibility that they were conceived as a series): the painting in the Musée Fabre, Montpellier depicts a startled, moustachioed man wearing a red feathered hat; that in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux (inv. no. 7100) portrays a melancholy-looking man in black; and the picture sold at Christie's, London, 23 April 1982, lot 82, pictures a man in a cap, his mouth open in the act of yawning or shouting.3
Though erstwhile associations with Pieter Bruegel the Elder have now been dismissed, these heads are undoubtedly inspired by the work of the artist's father, such as the Portrait of a peasant woman, in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich (inv. no. 7057).4 The printmaker I.C. Visscher's series of 36 engraved portraits of peasants of 1568 – the inscription on the first of which: 'P. Breugel inventor. I.C. Visscher excudit', indicating their basis in the Elder's designs – must also have provided inspiration for Brueghel the Younger.
Underdrawing is clearly visible in the flesh tones, going some way to reveal Brueghel's working method, where in this case confident, apparently free-hand strokes (probably in charcoal) have been used to describe the man's features.
1 At the painting's last appearance on the market in 1993, the work was sold with a certificate from Max Friedländer, dated Amsterdam, 1 May 1953, as by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
2 The form of the signature here – ‘Breughel’ as opposed to ‘Brueghel’ – indicates a date of execution after 1616, when the artist changed the spelling of his name.
3 See Ertz 1988/2000, pp. 961–62, cat. nos E1376, E1378, and E1379, reproduced. This last subject also exists in a small oval painting – probably cut down from a roundel (12.6 x 9.2 cm.) – in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, inv. no. 6509; see Ertz 1988/2000, p. 961, cat. no. E1377, reproduced.
4 22 x 18 cm.; see Ertz, Lingen 1998, pp. 346–47, under cat. no. 122, reproduced p. 346, fig. 122b.