de jonckheere old masters

Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Winter landscape with a bird trap

Panel: 40,5 x 58 cm


Contemporary with the cycle of the seasons, this magnificent winter landscape is clearly one of the most well-known works of Pieter Brueghel the Elder. In a more meditative register than the Hunters in the snow (1565, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), this subject – the paternal prototype of which is kept at the Royal Museums of Fine Art in Brussels, - lies at the source of the iconography of the winter landscape admired by the greatest art-lovers, such as Archduke Leopold Wilhelm.

But what hides behind this peaceful Brabant panorama composed of whites and gold? Here, Brueghel reveals nature and man evolving in perfect harmony. While sparrows and fledglings chirp on the snow, the carefree characters, some wearing red hats, indulge in the winter sports that Brueghel was already illustrating for Cock in 1558 in front of St. George's gate in Antwerp. Enjoying skating or playing kolf (the ancestor of hockey and golf), none of them seem to notice the traps, whether it be the thin layer of ice that could break beneath the commotion or the mysterious trap under which the birds are sheltering. Herein lies the meaning of the painting, also known as the Bird-trap: through bad judgement, or simple blunder, we could well fall.

The charm of this painting can be attributed to this nuance; thanks to a relatively high viewpoint, the viewer’s gaze embraces a tranquil image that nevertheless hangs by a thread. The painting undoubtedly alludes to the precariousness of life and this echo effect may lead the viewer to draw a comparison between the trap and the political situation in the Netherlands at the time, i.e. the oppression of the Spanish regime.

Besides the close resemblance of our painting with The Bird Trap by the artist’s father, Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s work differs from the paternal model through the use of his own particular technique. With his use of colour to create subtle nuances, the artist stands out as a remarkable colourist. He seems to want to brighten the tones through the skaters’ clothing and the light striking the walls of the dwellings and the meticulously executed trees with their detailed branches. Considered as his best successor, Pieter Brueghel the Younger contributes to the explosive success of his father’s subjects. This can indeed be seen in the very fine versions of this painting belonging to some of the greatest international collections. Whether in Vienna or Bucharest, all the panels meet the same plastic requirements. Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s different variations on the theme are all very different with slight divergences between them. These differences can be seen specifically in the degree of the depth of the colours as in the meticulous detail of the branches, always very elaborate in Pieter the Younger’s work, as well as the number of swallows flying in the sky. Nevertheless, under all circumstances, we can see a landscape that is modern, sweeping and panoramic in scope, with a low horizon foreshadowing Dutch art of the 17th century. Composed as a simple landscape comprised of various shades of grey and light brown highlighted with white flat tints and a few dashes of colour, this small village, believed to be Pede-Sainte-Anne, is a true cabinet painting. Opening the way for 17th century Dutch landscape painting, it is without a doubt one of these images we cannot help admiring, and ultimately desiring.

Provenance :
Private collection.

Littérature :
G. Marlier, Pierre Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels, 1969, pp.239 à 251;
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere, Lingen, 1988/2000, vol. II, pp.575 à 587.