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Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Village street with peasants dancing

Panel: 40,6 x 72,3 cm
Signed P.BREVGHEL

introduction

It was Pieter Brueghel the Younger who developed the theme of the return from the kermis, a subject for which there are no drawings or paintings among his father’s works. In other words, the unique subject matter of The village street with peasants dancing owes its importance to the fact that the composition was invented by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Belonging to the period when the painter created his most precious original works, i.e., at the end of the 1620s, this scene highlights the talent of this painter who, despite certain differences, remained faithful to the pictorial model that made his father’s art so successful.

The scene, whose subject isn't explicitly defined, reflects the success of depictions of rustic landscapes initiated by his father. At the centre of this painting, villagers dance in a lively round to the sound of bagpipes. The central motif of the dance can also be found in St. George’s Kermis, dated 1628. It is shown again in another Kermis; however, in this case, the man shown in profile on the right is different because he isn’t wearing the large yellow ruff with sleeves sticking out at the back. The couple in the foreground with their backs turned to us are present again, as well as the brawl in the neighbouring house.

An X-ray of the painting reveals the underlying drawing, probably created in two stages. A tracing for the villagers’ dance: this process explains the reuse of this motif in the various known versions; then a free drawing for the buildings on the right and left, the secondary characters, as well as the trees and landscape. The diagonal orientation of the dance opens onto the perspective created by the long tree-lined road, which reaches into the distance up to the horizon line. Different versions of this background landscape exist, as can be seen in the painting in Saint Omer or the one in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva, for instance.

Painted after 1626, as proven by the signature P.BREVGHEL, this work is a wonderful synthesis of the finest Brueghelian motifs such as the dance, the brawl, the bagpipe players and the Brabant cottages. Following in his father’s wake, they are proof of this painter’s talent, who was both an inventor and heir to the subjects in fashion in the 17th-century Southern Netherlands.

Provenance :
Lord Belper, Kingston Hall, Nottingham;
Christie’s sale ('The Property of a Gentleman'), London, 23 March 1973, lot 90;
Private collection, South Africa, since 1974;
Anonymous sale ('The Property of a South African Foundation'), Christie's, London, 7 July 1978, lot 217;
David M. Koetser, Zurich;
Private collection.

Littérature :
J. Folie in P. Roberts-Jones (ed.), Bruegel. Une dynastie de peintres, exhibition catalogue, Brussels 1980, p. 158, no. 98, reproduced (loaned by David M. Koetser, Zurich);
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564–1637/8). Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, 2 vols, Lingen 2000, vol. II, pp. 837, 849, 871, no. E 1196*, reproduced figures 676 and 678 (detail).

Expositions :
Johannesburg, Carlton Centre, 1974;
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brueghel. Une dynastie de peintres, 1980, no. 98.