JAN BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER (Antwerp, 1601 – 1678)
A wooded landscape with horse-drawn carts,
riders and peasants on a hillside path in the foreground
Oil on panel, 11 x 13 ½ inches (28 x 34.5 cm)
Signed, lower right center: BRVEGHEL
Christie’s, New York, January 31, 1997, lot 8 (as by Jan Brueghel the Younger), where purchased by:
Private Collection, New York (1997-present)
The eldest son of Jan Breughel the Elder, Jan the Younger trained with his father in Antwerp before setting off for Italy with his childhood friend Anthony van Dyck around 1620. He returned in 1625, becoming a member of the Antwerp painter’s guild (he would become Dean in 1630) and taking over his recently deceased father’s active and successful studio. While he remained active in his native city throughout his long career, his clients came from across Europe and included the Austrian and French courts. The subject matter of his paintings was varied, although he is best known for his idealized landscapes which might feature villages, mythological scenes, allegories or animals. His rendering of pastoral landscapes is characterized by a meticulous handling of receding space, with figures, animals, objects, and natural elements forming the markers for convincing panoramic views on an intimate scale.
Brueghel was a master of creating a microcosm of the world in the limited space of a cabinet picture, here one roughly one foot square. In our composition a hay wain is drawn by two horses, one grey and one chestnut, with a red-coated driver raising a whip to drive his team forward. Moving up the hill in the opposite direction is a solitary horse and rider wearing cape and hat, preceded by a leaping dog and followed at a distance by two peasant women carrying baskets, one with goods atop her head. Behind the rider a flock of sheep graze, a few black ones keeping to themselves, as a shepherd watches at left. Making their way up the path at center towards the grove of trees is a small family group –a man carrying bundles on his back, then a woman with goods or a broad hat on her head, and then a younger woman—while further down the path two figures, one on horseback, follow.
A substantial house is set at the edge of the woods, a touch of red indicating a person standing outside. Down the road in front of the hay wain, ruts in the road extend from a covered wagon, with a man walking beside. Another figure leads – all heading down into the valley where a village, with small buildings surrounding a church, is nestled in the woods. Birds punctuate the sky, one hovering over the travelers in the middle-ground, two seen high against the clouds, and a miniscule one flying over the distant village. Another bird pecks at the ground in the foreground, not far from the animal bones lying by the side of the road.
The overall composition of the painting is created from a serious of irregular diagonals delineating broad fields of color. The first, in the foreground, is largely brown and rises at the left to include the massive trees that frame the scene. The middle-ground includes the wooded area and forms a green triangle pointing into the distance. The blue sky and blue-hazed landscape complete the vista. The two groups of travelers each progress on diagonal biases, one from and one to a distant point at the right, while the countervalent lines of the horizon and the clouds create balance and give stability to the composition. These sophisticated constructs serve to create a complex miniature world depicting rural life -- active, harmonious, and at one with nature.
The present painting has been examined by Dr. Klaus Ertz (certificate of Dec. 13, 1994), who will include the painting in the forthcoming addendum to his catalogue raisonné on Jan Brueghel the Younger (Klaus Ertz, Jan Breughel der Jüngere (1601-1678) : die Gemälde, mit kritischem Œuvrekatalog, Freren 1984).