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Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Summer: harvest time

Panel: 54 x 75 cm

introduction

This superb portrayal of harvesting under a dazzling sun, powerfully reveals all the complementarity that existed between the work of Pieter Brueghel the Elder and that of his son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger. The genius of the father’s forms and composition is enriched by the son’s inventiveness and his joyful lines and colours. This peasant scene had a resounding success in the art world. It became the symbol of summer for all lovers of Brueghel’s work.

The story of his fame began as soon as Pieter the Elder died. In 1570, a year after the artist’s death, Hieronymus Cock published a series of four engravings depicting the Seasons. It was the result of a commission made at least five years earlier. But the painter, established in Brussels at the time, did not have time to finish the work and only provided the first two drawings: the drawing of Spring, kept at the Albertina in Vienna, signed BRVEGEL and dated 1565; and that of Summer, kept at the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, dated 1568. When Brueghel the Elder died, Cock asked Hans Bol to quickly supply him with the drawings for Autumn and Winter, so that the series of four plates could be published in 1570. Later, Pieter Brueghel the Younger drew inspiration from these engravings to paint one of his most beautiful paintings.

Summer, as evoked in this panel, is not intended as the simple depiction of just one of the seasons. The artist wants to render palpable life in bloom, the epitome of the earth made fertile by the sun’s power. It is a homage to nature as a source of nourishment and the work of men. In the torpor of August, the air is still: neither the leaves nor the ears of corn move. The characters naturally integrate with the vast landscape, almost entirely covered with the rust-coloured, golden tones of the corn. In the foreground of the panel, on the left, is the reaper, just like on the engraving, standing powerfully on his two legs. Through his plastic qualities alone, the man becomes the symbol of peasant life, that of the earth and their shared continuity. Other reapers, gleaners, binders or the minute silhouettes of those carrying the sheaves in distant planes are busy between two stretches of ripe corn. In the foreground on the right, a few peasants have stopped to eat. The construction of this midday meal is partly similar to that of Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s large painting of the Harvest, kept at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Two of the characters also feature in this one: the particularly elegant young woman wearing a straw hat and dressed in a white apron, with a young man cutting a slice of bread at her side. A farmer’s wife overlooks the group and stands out owing to the strange basket filled with fruit and beets that literally hides her face, to the point of creating a headless character. As for the landscape, it is a faithful copy of the drawing in the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, and displays Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s particular concern to reproduce all the creative imaginings of nature, even down to the smallest poppy.

To achieve this power of expression, the artist has allowed himself to be influenced by the mastery of mannerism in his drawing. With a highly Flemish and rustic aspect, this painting nevertheless calls upon all the most innovative skills and techniques. The peasant quenching his thirst at the front of the scene assumes a pose whose twists and tension are worthy of the great mannerist paintings of the pontifical court or that of Rudolph II in Prague.

Among the variants combining the drawing in Hamburg and the painting in the Metropolitan, our version’s superb dimensions and the great quality of its colours, so harmoniously distilled, are bound to seduce. Brueghel’s seasons have always featured among the finest collections; the entire essence of Brueghel’s art is deployed here to render this beautiful summer afternoon an eternal moment of enjoyment.

Provenance :
Private collection.

Littérature :
G. Marlier, Pierre Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels, 1969, pp. 226 to 232;
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere, Lingen, 1988/2000, vol.II, pp. 594 to 597.