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Jan Brueghel the Elder

Landscape with travellers on a country road

Copper : 20,3 x 31,8 cm
1611
Signed and dated "Brveghel.1611", mark of Peeter Stas

introduction

A brilliant painter, Jan Brueghel the Elder portrayed the theme depicting the entry to a village many times, thus meeting the demand of an ever-increasing number of principals. We currently know of several variants of rustic landscapes with travellers, which reinforce Jan’s renown, such as the one kept in Munich. Once again, we find the well-established layout, composed of vast panoramas, embellished with trees and rivers, whose planes are interspersed with small groups of characters, farmers, travellers and animals.

However, owing to his technical skills and the richness of his colours, each of his paintings is a unique work of art. Every extremely refined brushstroke respects the smallest detail. Seen from close up, we can appreciate the precisely-drawn figures, animals and foliage whose colour and density are highly varied. Indeed, the artist has an acute sense of detail and displays great accuracy in his observation of nature. This sense of detail can also be perceived in the sketch for this painting, presented in the collections of the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm.

Here we are witness to a change in the relationship between the work and the viewer, which is very different from that of 16th century landscape painting. The observer is no longer looking at the painting’s foreground, where the action is taking place, as in Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s works; they are now part of this space in the painting and thus become one of the travellers in the foreground. Through the path, Jan Brueghel provides a vanishing point, allowing the viewer to enter directly into the painting. This is clearly visible in his work Broken axle on the forest road.

This particular focus on the background is a technique that was widely copied by his followers. The painter shows an astute understanding of the space and the points of view. And this is precisely what gives this landscape a unique character, integrating this copper into the progressive and avant-gardist body of work painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder. The grading of the backgrounds – featuring the rigid law of the brown-green-blue division that characterised painting until the beginning of the 17th century – is replaced here with a uniform conception of the colours and the space. The application of these colours on a copper plate adds a sparkle to the browns, greens, yellows and blues. This causes the lights and the tone to contrast subtly with a sky composed of different nuances of blue, but also with the forest’s diaphanous foliage. The painter establishes a soft poetry, rendered by the light and the colours, creating an almost ethereal atmosphere.

Jan Brueghel the Elder began creating small formats very early on, using his favourite medium, copper. The latter is struck with the mark of the craftsman Peeter Stas. The isolated motifs, which create the excitement on this path, form delightful touches of colour. In this true repertoire of motifs, identifiable to the art lover, we can spot the woman with a bundle on her head, as well as the horse pulling a cart, which is widely used and repeated in his work Wooded path with travellers. Dated 1611, this copper marks the peak of the painter’s pictorial pursuits, and his status as a great master of the art of the wooded landscape.


Provenance :
Private collection.