We were fortunate enough to obtain an exclusive preview of the upcoming event, “The Bruegel Success Story,” to be held 12-14 September 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (http://conf.kikirpa.be/bruegel2018/) This can’t-miss conference kicks off a number of activities celebrating the life and work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who died 450 years ago. We corresponded with one of the conference organizers, Dr. Christina Currie, Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), who gave us this exciting preview of the conference:
1) What led to focusing on Bruegel and his family for this conference?
The year 2019 is the 450th anniversary of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s death. In Belgium and in Vienna, this is being marked by a series of events that will celebrate his career and his influence on later generations. The Bruegel Success Story conference, organised by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) in collaboration with the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Belgium, will kick off this season of activities and will give a riveting context for all the subsequent Bruegel themed happenings.
2) What will attendees of the conference learn?
Attendees will be exposed to the very latest in Bruegel research through the eyes of experts from all around the world. Eminent keynote speakers Leen Huet (Belgium), Elizabeth Honig (USA) and Matt Kavaler (Canada) will introduce each of the three days. Over the course of the conference, presentations will cover the life and work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder as well as that of his artistic progeny, including the astonishingly exact replicas of his paintings produced by his elder son Pieter Brueghel the Younger and the exquisite paintings of his younger son Jan Brueghel the Elder. Fascinating new findings on the creative process of Bruegel the Elder as well as that of his dynasty will be presented for the first time, thanks to new high resolution scientific imagery. But the conference does not neglect the essential meaning behind these beautiful works of art. Several speakers will concentrate specifically on the interpretation of Bruegel’s paintings and drawings, which can be quite subversive when seen in an historical context. Interesting new facts about the life, family and homes of the Bruegel family will also be revealed.
3) Who should attend this conference?
The Bruegel Success Story is intended for all art lovers with an interest in Flemish painting and particularly those attracted to Bruegelian themes such as peasant dances, landscapes, proverbs and maniacal scenes. Students of art history, art historians, restorers and collectors should not pass up this opportunity.
3) There are a number of papers focusing on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting “Dulle Griet.” Why is that painting receiving attention now?
The Dulle Griet, in the collection of the Mayer van den Bergh Museum in Antwerp, has just undergone the most thorough conservation treatment in its recent history. This has brought to light many original features that were previously hidden behind a murky brown varnish and overpaint. The restoration, carried out at the Royal Institute for Cultural Institute in Brussels, was accompanied by in-depth technical examination that resulted in fascinating discoveries about Bruegel the Elder’s creative process. The conference attendees will hear how this great artist conceived, developed and painted this bizarre macabre composition. Leen Huet, one of the keynote speakers and author of a sensational recent biography on Bruegel the Elder, will delve into the hidden meaning behind the Dulle Griet.
4) One of the biggest bombshells in recent years was the revelation in your book (“The Brueg(h)el Phenomenon”) that Bruegel the Elder’s two versions of “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” were not painted by Bruegel the Elder. Will there be similar surprises unveiled at the conference?
I can say that attributions will be debated during the conference. This is always the case when a group of experts on a particular artist or dynasty get together. And it can lead to sparks flying as opinions naturally diverge!
5) There has also been a good deal of investigation into Bruegel’s extended family lately. What will attendees learn about Bruegel’s family at the conference?
Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings were so loved that his son and heir Pieter Brueghel the Younger made his entire career out of producing replicas for an insatiable art market in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Jan Brueghel, his younger brother, updated the family tradition, branching out into flower paintings, allegories and mythological themes. The next generation produced several renowned painters too, including Abraham Brueghel, who traded on the family name. The paintings of the Bruegel dynasty, as well as those of lesser-known artists working in the Bruegel tradition in the Low Countries and abroad, will feature amongst the exciting new material presented during the conference.
Over the past few months we have had an opportunity to study an interesting “Children’s Games” variant.
We have studied the infrared reflectography image taken, as well as an X-ray image and several images created with various light and dark shading.
Let’s review the images and discus what they reveal about the painting:
First, this image (below) clearly indicates that the painting is quite dirty through age and discoloration of varnish.
This image (below) with light raking from the right side make clear the few small places on the painting which have been cleaned, so the bright colors of the original panel come through, such as in the upper right corner where the sky has been cleaned and the middle left, where the young girl has been cleaned.
An ultraviolet light image (below) shows clearly some of the damage to the painting that has occurred over the decades. The most pronounced damage is along edge where the first and second panels were joined together. There also is damage in the middle of the painting with a few scratches.
One of the mysteries that we are trying to solve with this analysis is to determine when the painting was created. The image below of raking light on the back of the painting clearly shows that the 3 boards which comprise the painting were created with saw-type tools, and don’t appear to be created by a machine.
A recently published monograph “Frames and supports in 15th- and 16th-century southern netherlandish painting” by Hélène Verougstraete has been instructive in our analysis of the marks on the back of the panel. This has been instructive relative to how the panel was created. While none of the images in the monograph are an exact match, some, such as the figure a (page 33) appear to be somewhat close.
However, we aren’t able to date the panel with certainty based on this information.
The image below clearly shows the repair that panel has undergone, most noticeably the increased support that the panel has had to repair and support the joining of the first two panels, where the damage in the other panels can readily be seen.
We are continuing to examine this panel and look forward to sharing our findings here!
Recently we’ve been given the opportunity to examine first hand a very interesting copy of Bruegel’s Children’s Games. The painting is large – 28″ X 39″, seemingly painted on a single panel (or two panels), potentially painted on larch (birch).
Below is the original version from 1560
Below is the copy from ?
What makes this copy so interesting is how it diverges from Bruegel’s original. There are many Children’s games that are missing from the copy, as seen in the illustrations below.
Figures that appear in both versions are in yellow. Those not highlighted are missing from the curious copy:
This blog will document the research done on this painting to ascertain when it was painted, and potentially who painted it.
We love a detective hunt!
It comes to no surprise to any collector that a firm attribution to an painter positively impacts a painting’s value. But what does this mean in the world of Bruegel / Brueghel? The recent attribution of “Wine on St. Martin’s Day” to Bruegel the Elder from a previous attribution of Brueghel the Younger catipulted this painting’s value to 25M Euros if sold on the open market (1). An upcoming auction for Brueghel the Younger’s “The Wedding Dance” at Palais Dorotheum on October 21, 2014 will test the value of attribution for his son, in one of Bruegel / Brueghel’s most popular painting motifs.
In February of last year at rather rough looking painting of “The Wedding Dance” was put up for auction at Bill Hood and Sons in Florida in the USA.
This work, “attributed to Brueghel the Younger” was estimated at $10,000, but on the day of the auction soared above the estimate to land at a sale price of $21,000.
In the time since the auction, the painting was carefully restored, and the owner (or Palais Dorotheum, the seller) worked with the preminant scholar in the area of Brueghel the Younger, Klaus Ertz, to determine whether the work was an autograph Brueghel the Younger.
The Dorotheum website explains the attribution, “The present painting was analysed using X-ray technology and infrared reflectology. The analysis found that the pigment matched that usually used by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Furthermore, the manner of working is that of Pieter Brueghel; the wooden panel was prepared using a white chalk base and the imprimatura was applied on the diagonal using a wide brush, as is the case with most of Brueghel’s paintings. The entire composition was meticulously sketched on to the prepared panel. In the underdrawing there are multiple pentimenti.” (The phrase “meticulously sketched” is interesting, since Christina Currie and Dominique Allart in “The Brueg(h)el Phenomenon” show that Brueghel the Younger and his workshop typically used pouncing to transfer images from the preparatory cartoon to the surface of the paining. Hopefully Currie and Allart can examine this painting to tell us more about how the image was tranferred, since it is only one of two examples of this scene in round (“tondi”) form.)
The Dorotheum description concludes by stating, “The present painting is of an exceedingly high quality and should be considered among Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s masterpieces.”
In other words, the attribution raises the price from $21,000 to up to $378,000 (the high end of the sales estimate, which I think this painting will achieve.)
Below is an image of the restored patining on sale at the auction.
A wonderful new exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum from September 20 to November 8 2014 explores Bruegel the Elder via art created by Laurence Smith.
From the introduction:
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1569) was a Flemish artist who illustrated
people’s everyday lives and the worlds they inhabited. His work is often seen
as being one of the earliest forms of social satire in art history.
In the drawing Nobody and Somebody (1558) the character of Nobody
is shown staring at himself in a mirror, below Bruegel has written the line
“Nobody looks at himself”. Bruegel loved to turn proverbs into pictures and in
doing so held his own mirror up to what he saw as the foolishness of society.
Bruegel was predominantly known for his large, colourful oil paintings of, what
were known as, ‘peasant scenes’. These were commissioned by wealthy
patrons and rarely seen in public. However, many of his drawings were made
into engravings allowing them to be reproduced and seen by a far wider
Laurence Smith has made a study of Bruegel’s little known graphic works and
turned some of these drawings and engravings into oil paintings whilst trying
to mirror the colour and energy of Bruegel’s paintings. Enlarged and vividly
coloured Bruegel’s highly detailed graphic images can now be seen like never
Pieter Bruegel the Elder wanted to hold up a theatrical mirror in order for us to
see our own selves, with all our virtues and vices, reflected back at us.
Of course it is not unusual to find a Brueghel painting in a public art collection, or in a private museum, or, increasingly, in the residence of a wealthy citizen of Russia. What is unusual is finding a Brueghel in an out of the way location. In what is perhaps the strangest setting in which I’ve seen a Bruegel, recently I visited the Church of Saint-Severin Paris’ Latin Quarter knowing that this church had a large format Brueghel, The Crucifixion.
Upon entering the typically fairly dark interior of the Roman Catholic church, I scanned the walls for the painting. I wasn’t surprised that I did not see it, since I expected that it might be in one of the small chapels of the church.
After circling the church several times and not seeing the painting, I noticed an open door into a sort of closet, or anti-chamber, where there was activity. It appeared that the church was preparing for a concert performance.
Amid the activity I stepped into the small room, scanned the walls, and much to my surprise, just above the door to another room, was the painting. It hung approximately 15 feet above floor level and gleamed luminously. While members of the choir were running in and out of the room, I stood back and took in the painting. It was fantastic, large, and had the attributes of a typical Brueghel work.
The painting is similar to other versions of the painting, showing Christ and two others being crucified in a large format landscape. A city extends further in the distance with the temple of Jerusalem. A field of wheat can be viewed behind the figure on the left. In the background two peaks can be seen connected by a natural bridge. Marlier notes that in this version of the painting, the sky is darker than in other versions. It is thought that this painting is a copy after a lost work by the elder Bruegel.
As the activity in the small church room was dying down, it appeared that a concert performer was preparing to lock the door and wanted me to leave. I exited the room, and the door was closed behind me.
I wondered if my visit hadn’t coincided with musicians preparing for a performance, if I would have been able to see the painting. It seemed like the door to this room was normally closed, and only happened to be open because of the performers preparing for the concert.
In life, as with seeing Bruegel/Brueghel paintings, timing is everything. Particularly when there is a Brueghel in a broom closet-like setting.
Paris is home to the only two galleries that specialize in work by the family of Bruegel. For those interested in Brueghel, these galleries are “can’t miss” opportunities. Fortunately, during a visit to Paris earlier this year, I was able to tour both galleries.
Galerie D’Art Saint-Honoré
The Galerie has been in existence since 1984 when it was established by Monika Kruch. I spent a wonderful afternoon with Jérôme Montcouquiol discussing the Galerie and all things Bruegel.
Mr. Montcouquiol discussed with me the recently concluded and very well received exhibit “The Brueghel Dynasty”. The exhibit not only included works from the Galerie, but several private collections contributed works to the exhibit. Included in the exhibit were works from by Jan the Elder, Jan the Younger, Pieter the Younger and others. A highlight of the exhibit, and a work that can be seen in the Gallery, is “The Wedding Feast.” This version differs from many others (and differs from the version painted by Bruegel the Elder) in that two figures can be seen in the loft in the top left portion of the painting.
We spoke about the Galerie’s upcoming exhibition in the Maastricht, Netherlands art fair, where the gallery exhibits each year. Mr. Montcouquiol indicated that they are looking forward to another outstanding show.
The gallery only acquires works of exceptional quality, and strives to showcase works of the Brueghel family as well as major works of other artists of the period.
Galerie De Jonckheere
Paris is one of two locations for Galerie De Jonckheere. This galerie has been catering to Bruegel-related collectors for nearly 40 years. I spent a lovely hour in the Galerie speaking with the staff. The Galerie has had both large scale and more intimate Bruegel-related works, including a wonderful version of the Peasant Wedding Dance by Pieter the Younger (see below). Collectors from North America, Europe and increasingly Russia frequent this gallery to view the latest additions to its collections.
Like many galleries, locating quality Bruegel-related works is difficult in this internet-connected environment. After a new work is acquired, it is reviewed and cleaned to the gallery’s exacting specifications. The works gracing the Galerie’s walls are of the highest standard.
The Galerie has experimented with exhibiting in New York (MANE) as a way to exposure new collectors to its work. This sounds like an ideal way to ensure that new collectors are aware of the magnificence of the Bruegel family.
The Galerie uses its own expertise, with the extensive expertise of Georges and François De Jonckheere, as well as occasionally calling in experts to authenticate works.
In conclusion, both galleries offer outstanding works and are well worth a visit when in Paris. If you aren’t able to visit Paris, the galleries have wonderful websites that can provide a fine view of the current paintings on offer.
Galerie D’Art Saint-Honoré: http://www.art-st-honore.com/en/
De Jonckheere Gallery: http://www.dejonckheere-gallery.com