“Peasants and Proverbs: Pieter Brueghel the Younger as Moralist and Entrepreneur” – Edited by Robert Wenley, with Essays by Jamie L. Edwards, Ruth Bubb, and Christina Currie. Published to accompany the exhibition at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham in association with Paul Holberton Publishing.
This volume makes an excellent case regarding why Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s works became popular throughout Europe in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. While Bruegel the Elder’s painted works were primarily in the private collections of the Pope and noble families, his eldest son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, was producing copies of his father’s compositions for decades. These works were largely bought by middle and upper-class European families, cementing Bruegel/Brueghel’s legacy and furthering the family’s “brand.”
It is rare for a museum exhibition to conduct a deep-dive into a single Brueghel the Younger work, which makes this show (and monograph) especially welcome. The focus is on four works of the same subject, “Two Peasants binding Firewood.” Thought to possibly be a model of a lost painting by Bruegel the Elder, Pieter the Younger painted multiple copies of this work, with four included in this exhibit (three of which are thought to come from Brueghel the Younger and his workshop).
Mysteries surround “Two Peasants binding Firewood.” Why did this subject matter resonate with Europeans at the time? How many versions of the painting were created? How were the copies made? The essays in the monograph seek to answer these questions in fascinating detail.
The book begins with a chapter detailing the life of Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Born in 1564, his famous father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, died when Pieter the Younger was a young child. Pieter the Younger moved to Antwerp and set up his own independent studio, specializing in reproductions of famous works by his father, as well as original compositions in the Elder Bruegel’s style. Brueghel the Younger was assisted by a rotating group of one or two formal apprentices that entered his workshop every few years. Brueghel the Younger and his assistants produced paintings at high volume throughout his career, with Pieter living a long life, dying in 1637/1638.
The next chapter is Jamie L. Edward’s engaging essay detailing the history of peasants in Bruegel the Elder and Brueghel the Younger’s works. Interestingly, the meaning of the painting at the center of the exhibit, “Two Peasants binding Firewood,” cannot be ascertained with certainty, but can be surmised based on the appearance of similar peasants in other Bruegel works. Of the two peasants prominent in the painting, the tall thin peasant, wearing a bandage around his head, has been identified as a reference to the proverb ‘he has a toothache at someone,’ meaning someone that deceives or is a malingerer. The second peasant, stout and dressed in red pants, represents a stock ‘type’ which can frequently be found in peasant wedding paintings of the time. One likely reading of the painting is that it depicts two peasants who have been caught in the act of stealing firewood.
The chapter by Christina Currie and Ruth Bubb focuses on an analysis of the two other extant rectangular versions of “Two Peasants binding Firewood,” (one from a Belgium private collection and the other at the National Gallery, Prague), comparing them to the version at the Barber Institute. A surprising finding of the dendrochronological analysis of the painting at the Barber Institute found that the tree used to fashion the board used in the painting was cut down between ~1449 and 1481. The authors identify the creator of the panel through a maker’s mark on the reverse of the painting. The panel maker was active from 1589 – c.1621, meaning that the panel was likely painted during this time frame. Interestingly, this means that the tree was stored for well over 100 years before being used by the panel-maker to create the board used by Brueghel the Younger.
Brueghel typically made his works by transferring images via a cartoon to the prepared panel through pouncing, which involved rubbing a small porous bag containing black pigment over holes pricked in an outline of the painting (called a cartoon) onto the prepared blank surface of the panel. The dots that remained were connected via black graphite pencil, and the pigment (dots) wiped away. The paint layer was then placed on top of the underdrawing.
The authors review each of the three rectangular versions, identifying two as autograph versions by Pieter the Younger and his studio. The authors make a compelling case for the version of the painting now in Prague being created outside of Pieter the Younger’s studio. This is due to several reasons, including the lack of underdrawing. The Prague version is also more thickly painted and has relatively crude color-blending in the faces. Some colors in the painting are also different, with light blue rather than pink used for the color of the jacket of the plump peasant.
The final section of the monograph contains the catalog of works in the exhibition. The detailed description and wonderfully-produced images allow the reader to analyze them individually as well as to compare and contrast them. For example, one version of the painting seems to show the thin peasant with his mouth open, showing his few remaining teeth.
Particularly interesting is the smaller, round version of the painting, said to have been painted by Brueghel the Younger later in his career, using free hand, and not a cartoon. This version depicts the two peasants with much smaller heads, in a loose, free-hand manner.
The description of the paintings and their differences is fascinating, with the reader coming away with a good understanding of how the paintings were created and who likely painted them. Readers of the monograph will learn the fascinating history of the Bruegel/Brueghel family along with a compelling explanation regarding how Brueghel the Younger continued and enhanced his family’s reputation in the first part of the 17th century.
The 450 anniversary of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s death, in 2019, ushered in many exciting projects to commemorate the milestone. Perhaps none as rich and diverse as this conference and accompanying 550-page monograph, which included groundbreaking papers on all aspects of the Bruegel family.
I was fortunate to attend the conference and can happily replace my scribbled notes and crude drawings created when seated in the audience with this exquisite monograph. It is perhaps the most beautifully illustrated Bruegel monograph based on conference papers that I’ve ever seen. Many of the Bruegel paintings reproduced in the monograph were recently cleaned and restored, which the monograph fully captures with large, rich illustrations. Not only are the paintings themselves reproduced, but enlarged details of critical sections of the paintings are featured.
The monograph’s first section includes a series of articles on the newly restored Dulle Griet, done in preparation for the Bruegel exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna in 2018 -19, in conjunction with the Museum Mayer Vanden Bergh in Antwerp, where the painting hangs. The conference brought to light that Dulle Griet was likely transferred from cartoon tracings after Bruegel carefully worked out the picture on other media. The recent cleaning of the panel has uncovered that many of the painting’s pigments have faded or darkened. The cleaning exposed a vital missing feature of the painting, the date of execution of the work. A fascinating essay details a colored drawing of Dulle Griet, housed at the Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf. The drawing helps convey the painting’s original colors which have faded over the years. The analysis of the paper on which the drawing was rendered revealed a watermark from no earlier than 1578, confirming its status as a copy.
The second section of the monograph is devoted to a group of papers related to Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his practices. Groundbreaking scholarship considers Bruegel’s paintings on distemper on lined canvas (Tuchlein), a format which Bruegel was one of the last to utilize. Essays on The Adoration of the Magi (in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Belgium), by Veronique Bucken, provide intriguing details about this format of painting.
Bruegel used a variety of methods to paint his monumental panel paintings. For example, compared to Dulle Griet, the Detroit Wedding Dance, was drawn free hand using an “extensive and vigorous drawing with numerous adjustments to the modeling and shading of the figures, but not the composition as a whole.” Another surprise is the finding that the Wedding Dance was altered from its initial composition size through the addition of a top border. This is discussed in an intriguing paper by Marie Postec and Pascale Fraiture that compares the Detroit version with a little studied copy after Bruegel the Elder in Antwerp.
The third section of the monograph is devoted to Jan Brueghel, son of Pieter the Elder. Several essays review the difference between Jan and his elder brother, Pieter the Younger, in terms of creating copies after their father’s works. Elizabeth Alice Honig’s “Copia, Copying and Painterly Eloquence,” describes Jan Brueghel the Elder and the notion of copia, as articulated for a Renaissance audience by Erasmus in his De Copia. In Uta Neidhardt’s paper, “The Master of the Dresden Landscape with the Continence of Scipio: A Journeyman in the studio of Jan Brueghel the Elder?” identifies two different “hands” working in Jan Brueghel’s studio. The essay is important because so little is known about those painters that worked in proximity to Jan’s studio. The essay remarks on the difficulty in assigning works to specific studio hands. (An issue that was on display just last month, when Christie’s sold a work dated 1608 stamped in copper by “Pieter Brueghel III,” owning to what is undoubtedly a spurious signature.) Larry Silver’s essay “Sibling Rivalry: Jan Brueghel’s Rediscovered Early Crucifixion,” focuses on the difference between Jan the Elder and Pieter the Younger’s treatment of a lost composition of Pieter the Elder. As can be seen frequently in the brother’s work, Jan the Elder creatively re-invents works based on his father’s design, while Pieter the Younger copies his father’s works in a fairly precise manner.
Section four investigates Bruegel’s network and legacies. The question of who painted some of the works after Bruegel the Elder’s untimely death in 1569 and his sons first paintings decades later remains a key mystery yet to be solved. Intriguing essays related to Bruegel’s networks, contracts and connection to homes and studios in Antwerp help put pieces of the puzzle together. Lost works like The Heath allow us to ponder questions of authorship and the number and varieties of copies made (most likely) by non-Brueghels.
The Bruegel “craze” of the early years of the 1600’s and the aftermath of Bruegel’s death is also covered in this section, which details the many ramifications of the aftermath of Bruegel The Elder’s untimely death. The monograph is rife with intriguing aspects of Bruegel’s legacy, including “Peasant Passions: Pieter Bruegel and his Aftermath” (Ethan Matt Kavaler) and “In Search of the Bruegel’s Family Homes and Studios in Antwerp” (Petra Maclot).
The devotion of eight pages to the restored Dulle Griet in an addendum of the monograph speaks to the exquisite care taken to showcase the paintings of Bruegel and his family.
That the quality of the monograph, with all of its finely detailed images, matches the uniformly high quality of the papers within, is a testament to the care that went into creating this handsome volume. It is wonderful that the conference papers are presented in such rich surroundings.
The full table of contents of this stunning monograph is below:
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.
A blockbuster conference containing the latest research on the Bruegel / Brueghel family of painters is being held this fall in Brussels. Many of the leading Bruegel scholars are presenting new findings related to the Bruegel dynasty.
Discoveries related to the Bruegel clan – including patriarch Pieter the Elder, sons Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder and other members of the family – will be presented at the symposium. One of the highlights will be presentations related to Pieter Bruegel’s “Dulle Griet,” a painting in Antwerp which has recently undergone extensive investigation, research and cleaning.
The Bruegel / Brueghel clan continues to be top draws at museums and set records at auction (including toping high estimates at this week’s Old Master’s auctions in London).
Registration is open now for this impressive symposium.
More information and registration at http://conf.kikirpa.be/bruegel2018/.
Conference Venue: Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Place du Musée, B-1000 Brussels.
12 September 2018, WEDNESDAY
9:00 – 9:45 Registration at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
9:45 – 10:00 Welcome by Hilde De Clercq, director of the KIK-IRPA and Michel Draguet, director of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
CHAIR Lieve Watteeuw
10:00 – 10:40 KEYNOTE LECTURE: Leen Huet, The Surprises of Dulle Griet
10:40 – 11:00 Larry Silver, Sibling Rivalry: Jan Brueghel’s Rediscovered Early Crucifixion
11:00 – 11:20 Véronique Bücken, The Adoration of the Kings in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium: Overview and new perspectives
11:20 – 11:30 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 11:30 – 12:00
CHAIR Dominique Allart
12:00 – 12:20 Yao-Fen You, Ellen Hanspach-Bernal, Christina Bisulca and Aaron Steele, The Afterlife of the Detroit Wedding Dance: Visual Reception, Alterations and Reinterpretation
12:20 – 12:40 Manfred Sellink, Marie Postec and Pascale Fraiture, Dancing with the bride – a little studied copy after Bruegel the Elder
12.40 – 13.00 Mirjam Neumeister and Eva Ortner, Examination of the Brueghel holdings in the Alte Pinakothek/Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich
13:00 – 13:10 Discussion
LUNCH BREAK 13:10 – 14:30
CHAIR Elizabeth Honig
14:30 – 14:50 Amy Orrock, Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Oil Sketches of Animals and Birds: Form, Function and Additions to the Oeuvre
14:50 – 15:10 René Lommez Gomes, Regarding the Character of Each Animal. An essay on form and colour in non-European fauna painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder
15:10 – 15:30 Uta Neidhardt, The Master of the Dresden “Landscape with the Continence of Scipio” – a journeyman in the studio of Jan Brueghel the Elder?
15:30 – 15:40 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 15:40 – 16:10
CHAIR Bart Fransen
16.10 – 17.10 Christina Currie, Steven Saverwyns, Livia Depuydt, Pascale Fraiture, Jean-Albert Glatigny and Alexia Coudray, Lifting the veil: The Dulle Griet rediscovered through conservation, scientific imagery and analysis
Christina Currie, Steven Saverwyns, Sonja Brink, Dominique Allart, The coloured drawing of the Dulle Griet in the Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf: new findings on its status and dating
Dominique Allart and Christina Currie, Bruegel’s painting technique reappraised through the Dulle Griet
17:10 – 17:20 Discussion
18.00 Opening reception in Brussels Town Hall (Gothic and Marriage rooms)
13 September 2018, THURSDAY
9:00 Doors open
CHAIR Ethan Matt Kavaler
9:30 – 10:10 KEYNOTE LECTURE: Elizabeth Honig, Copia: Jan Brueghel and the Rhetoric and Practice of Abundance
10:10 – 10:30 Yoko Mori, Is Bruegel’s Sleeping Peasant an Image of Caricature?
10:30 – 10:50 Jamie Edwards, Erasmus’s De Copia and Bruegel the Elder’s ‘inverted’ Carrying of the Cross (1564): An ‘abundant style’ in Rhetoric, Literature and Art?
10:50 – 11:00 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 11:00 – 11:30
CHAIR Leen Huet
11:30 – 11:50 Tine Meganck, Behind Bruegel: how “close viewing” may reveal original ownership
11:50 – 12:10 Annick Born, Behind the scenes in Pieter Bruegel’s success story: the network of the in-laws and their relatives
12:10 – 12:30 Petra Maclot, In Search of the Bruegel’s Homes and Workshops in Antwerp
12:30 – 12:40 Discussion
LUNCH BREAK 12:40 – 14:40
CHAIR Christina Currie
14:40 – 15:00 Lieve Watteeuw, Marina Van Bos, Joris Van Grieken and Maarten Bassens, ‘View on the Street of Messina’, circle of Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Drawing techniques and materials examined
15:00 – 15:20 Maarten Bassens, “Diet wel aenmerct, die siet groot wondere”. Retracing Pieter Bruegel’s printing press(es) by means of a typographical inquiry
15:20 – 15:40 Edward Wouk, Pieter Bruegel’s Subversive Drawings
15:40 – 15:50 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 15:50 – 16:20
CHAIR Valentine Henderiks
16:20 – 16:40 Jürgen Muller, Pieter Bruegel’s “The Triumph of Death” revisited
16:40 – 17:00 Jan Muylle, A lost painting of Pieter Bruegel, The Hoy
17:00 – 17:20 Hilde Cuvelier, Max J. Friedländer’s perception of Bruegel: Rereading the connoisseur with historical perspective
17:20 – 17:30 Discussion
14 September 2018, FRIDAY
9.00 Doors open
CHAIR Manfred Sellink
9:30 – 10:10 KEYNOTE LECTURE: Ethan Matt Kavaler, Peasant Bruegel and his Aftermath
10:10 – 10:30 Christina Currie and Dominique Allart, The creative process in the Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and creative solutions in two versions by his sons
10:30 – 10:50 Anne Haack Christensen, David Buti, Arie Pappot, Eva de la Fuente Pedersen and Jørgen Wadum, The father, the son, the followers: Six Brueg(h)els in Copenhagen examined
10:50 – 11:00 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 11:00 – 11:30
CHAIR Dominique Vanwijnsberghe
11:30 – 11:50 Lorne Campbell, Bruegel and Beuckelaer: contacts and contrasts
11:50 – 12:10 Patrick Le Chanu, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and France
12:10 – 12:30 Daan van Heesch, Hercules et simia: the Peculiar Afterlife of Bruegel in Sixteenth-Century Segovia
12:30 – 12:50 Francesco Ruvolo, The Painter and the Prince. Abraham Brueghel and Don Antonio Ruffo. Artistic and cultural relations in Messina from the seventeenth century. With unpublished documents
12:50 – 13:00 Discussion
LUNCH BREAK 13:00 – 14:30
CHAIR Véronique Bücken
14.30 – 14.50 Lucinda Timmermans, Painted ‘teljoren’ by the Bruegel family
14:50 – 15:10 Pascale Fraiture and Ian Tyers, Dendrochronology and the Bruegel dynasty
15:10 – 15:30 Jørgen Wadum and Ingrid Moortgat, An enigmatic panel maker from Antwerp and his supply to the Brueghels
15:30 – 15:50 Ron Spronk, Elke Oberthaler, Sabine Pénot, and Manfred Sellink, with Alice Hoppe Harnoncourt, The Two Towers: Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel panels in Vienna and Rotterdam
15:50 – 16.00 Discussion
16:00 – 16:10 Closing Remarks: Christina Currie and Dominque Allart
Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty by Amy Orrock (Philip Wilson Publishers, 2017). Published to accompany the exhibition Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty (11 February – 4 June, 2017) at the Holburne Museum, Bath, UK.
Perhaps the best known dynasty in the history of painters, the Bruegel family flourished for nearly 150 years. This book, written in conjunction with an exhibit that showcases the depth and breadth of the Bruegel clan, provides a history of the family along with visually dazzling key works.
The centerpiece of the book is the section that details the attribution of The Wedding Dance in the Open Air to Pieter Brueghel the Younger. The “heavy dancers” depicted in the painting are some of the best known figures of Bruegel’s oeuvre. Yet this painting was originally thought to be a copy by a follower of Brueghel the Younger.
Key to the attribution was the cleaning of the painting. The pre- and post-conservation images portray a drastically different work. Before conservation the work looked like a nocturnal scene, covered in layers of discolored varnish and numerous retouching. The restoration, carried out by Elizabeth Holford, led to a greatly lightened, visually stunning painting.
Christina Currie and Dominique Allart, who wrote the definitive scientific examination of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s output several years ago, examined the work and secured its attributed to the artist. They studied the painting’s underdrawing, which conformed to paintings typical of Pieter Brueghel the Younger. They concluded that he work “… equals that found in the other versions studied, signifying that it belongs within” the Brueghel the Younger group.
Jan Brueghel the Elder’s grandson, Jan van Kessel, excelled in small paintings of “naturalia,” which mimicked insect and other types of animal specimen that were difficult or impossible to obtain. Highlighted in the book are four small paintings on copper panels that depict native insects against light backgrounds.
This highly recommended book not only provides a wonderful overview of the Bruegel family, but also made me want to immediately rush to the Holburne museum to see the paintings in person. (I will have to wait a few weeks until I am able to do this.)
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.
Currie & Allart’s “The Brueg(h)el Phenomenon” monograph set which I wrote about recently has been an invaluable resource in conducting research about a Pieter Brueghel III painting.
As background, in preparation for a recent trip to Australia, I was interested in determining if any works derived from Bruegel the Elder were to be found on the continent. I learned of a “Peasant Wedding Dance,” attributed to Pieter Brueghel III, in the collection of the University of Melbourne.
According to the University of Melbourne’s catalog entry written by Dr. Jaynie Anderson … “In 1968 Professor Carl de Gruchy bought the work from the Pulitzer Gallery, London, which had bought it from a Dr. J. Henschen of Basel, Switzerland.” Denise de Gruchy gave the work to the University in memory of her brother in 1994. The work is thought to be from the early seventeenth-century (c. 1610), and is 116 X 138.5 cm on canvas. The Melbourne work is neither signed nor dated, and is currently displayed in the Karagheusian Room at University House (see below – “Peasant Wedding Dance” by Pieter Brueghel III, Melbourne Museum of Art Collection.)
I’ve been interested in learning more about Pieter Bruegel III’s paintings, since there is little known about the artist or his works. I’ve uncovered no monographs about him, and scant bibliographic information is available. It seems that Brueghel III was born in 1589 and is said to have first worked in, then later taken over, the workshop of his father, Pieter Brueghel the Younger.
Thanks to Currie & Allart’s detailed description of the painting, I learned that “Wedding Dance in the Open Air” (which has the same figural group as “Peasant Wedding Dance”) was a popular small-format (approx.. 40 cm X 60 cm on panel) work for Brueghel the Younger, with over 100 versions cataloged. The Melbourne version does not appear in Klaus Ertz’s (2000) or Georges Marlier’s (1969) catalogue raisonne of Brueghel the Younger, nor in Currie & Allart.
Most of the Brueghel the Younger compositions of “Wedding Dance in the Open Air” follow the format seen below, which Currie & Allart refer to as a “left handed” orientation (see below: “Wedding Dance in the Open Air” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Belgium)
However, an engraving after a presumably lost Bruegel the Elder painting as well as copies by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Bruegel’s contemporary Maerten van Cleve show a “right handed” orientation, which is the style of the Melbourne painting. If the Melbourne work is by Brueghel III, then he would have vastly increased the size of the work, reversed the format of his father’s work by painting a “right handed” version, and switched from panel to canvas. I have searched databases listing Brueghel II’s works, and found no other horizontal version of the painting by either Brueghel the Younger or Brueghel III that had a right hand orientation in the small format. (There is one vertical format signed by Pieter the Younger.)
Viewing the painting in person, it is certainly “Bruegelian,” but lacks the subtlety and painterly expertise of the other Pieter the Younger versions. The work is particularly unrefined in certain areas, such as in the middle right section of the work with the men near the tree. Further, the color of the clothing of the dancers in the Brueghel III work differ substantially from the colors in the Brueghel the Younger versions.
It is hoped that an X-radiograph can be created for the Melbourne work, which would provide additional insight. In addition, it would be helpful to view photographs of the reverse of the painting to learn if they would provide further clues regarding the creation of the painting. Finally, since the Brueghel the Younger versions were painted with a cartoon, it would be interesting to examine the work to attempt to determine if a scaled up cartoon was used.
Thanks to Currie & Allart’s monograph, I was able to very quickly do further research into this rare and interesting example of a Bruegel-related work in Australia.
(My gratitude to Dr. Jayne Anderson, Professor, Art History and Robyn Hovey, Collections Manager, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, for their generous assistance discussing and viewing this work.)
The Brueg(h)el Phenomenon
By Christina Currie & Dominique Allart
Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, 2012
This epic, three-volume monograph will likely be seen as a watershed in the study of Bruegel / Breughel works of art. The Bruegel dynasty, begun by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and continued primarily by his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger and then grandson Pieter Brueghel II, has enchanted viewers for hundreds of years. While there have been countless monographs reproducing the Elder Bruegel’s work (and to a much lesser degree, the works of Pieter Brueghel the Younger), technical-stylistic examination of the father and son’s work has not been undertaken until now. This textual inquiry is accompanied by abundant illustrations bring to life the author’s hypothesis about the Brueg(h)el’s work and practices.
The first volume reviews the artistic and cultural milieu in the late sixteenth century in which Bruegel began his career. A review of Bruegel’s work and posthumous fame follow, and while this ground has been well covered in the past, the author bring new insight due to the stylistic focus of their inquiry. Brueghel the Younger’s work is reviewed, along with a review of Brueghel’s likely workshop practices, which continues in the other two volumes. Brueghel the Younger’s long life allowed for a prestigious output of over 1,400 paintings, which necessitated a workshop of significant size.
The meaning of signatures and dates on the works of Bruegel the Elder and Breughel the Younger are discussed in fascinating detail. Why were some works signed, while others were not? Works which are of similar quality are sometimes signed – and sometimes not. Were the signatures and dates on certain paintings placed there on a whim, or did the signatures and dates convey a greater meaning or a sign of quality other than the painterly indications which can be seen today.
The painting technique of Bruegel the Elder is also contained in the first volume. The authors reveal for the first time that Bruegel the Elder was not consistent or uniform in his application of the painting’s underdrawing. The authors conclude that while some underdrawings are “sketchy and searching,” other align more closely to neatly created outlines of the completed painting.
The second volume focused on the painting technique of Brueghel the Younger, and compares a number of paintings by the Elder and Younger. For example, over 125 copies of Winter Landscape with Bird Trap exists, with attribution of some by Brueghel the Younger secured, and others not. Intriguingly, some of the Brueghel the Younger autograph copies have a small hole directly in the center of the painting. Tantalizingly, the authors hypothesized that this relates to the copying practice of Brueghel and his workshop.
The third volume focused on shedding light on Brueghel the Younger’s workshop practice. The author surmise that copying was done by tracing a cartoon. For the firs time, and in-depth discussion occurs around the number and nature of the cartoons used by Brueghel. Because Brueghel painted in a workshop setting, some works reflect greater and lesser degrees of he master’s hand. Determining which works had more or less of the workshop’s influence compared to the master’s direct participation is a central aspect of this volume of the work.
The most revelatory aspect of this volume, and perhaps of the entire work, is the proof, after much previous speculation that neither of the surviving copies of the Fall of Icarus are by the hand of Bruegel the Elder. The authors prove that the copies are by unknown followers, most likely copied after a lost Bruegelian model.
Over the coming weeks I will focus on some of the key aspects of this monograph. I hope that I will be able to convey some of the thrilling discoveries that authors bring to life in this fascinating study.
Book ordering information:
Brepols Publishers, ISBN: 978-2-930054-14-8
Price; 160 Euros / 232 dollars
Europe: email@example.com – www.brepols.net, North America: firstname.lastname@example.org – www.isdistribution.com
The summer auction season is upon us, with Christie’s and Sotheby’s offering stellar works by Brueghel the Younger.
One of most interesting works at auction is the version of “Massacre of the Innocents” at Christie’s. It is interesting for the mystery related to the signature. From the Lot Details:
“The form of the signature on the major versions is considered to be of significance in placing them within the chronologies of Pieter the Elder’s and Pieter the Younger’s oeuvres. The Royal Collection picture is signed ‘BRVEGEL’, which is now accepted as the Elder’s signature; the Vienna version is signed ‘BRVEG’ at the extreme right edge, although the letters ‘EL’ or ‘HEL’ may have been inadvertently trimmed off; a version in Bucharest is signed ‘P. BRVEGEL’. At the time of its sale in Paris in 1979, the present version appears to have born a fragmentary date in addition to the signature, ‘.BRVEGEL. 15..’ (see Campbell, op. cit., p. 15). We are grateful to Christina Currie of KIK/IRPA for noting that the present version is unusual in that it is signed with the signature form of Bruegel the Elder after 1559, ‘.BRVEGEL.’ without an ‘H’ and without the initial ‘P’. No other versions of the Massacre of the Innocents are securely known to be signed in this way; the implications of this for its primacy in the sequence of versions painted by Brueghel the younger remains to be established.”
What happened to the date on the painting? Having the date on the work in 1979 but not present now is mysterious. Was the painting subject to a botched cleaning? Or, did a cleaning reveal that the date was likely false, and was it removed? Hopefully this mystery will be solved soon. Further, it will be very interesting to learn where this version sits in the multiple versions painted by Brueghel.
“Nord on Art” has a great write up of the upcoming Brueghel works at auction:
Big news in the Bruegel-sphere this week with new evidence that the famous “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” is indeed not by Bruegel the Elder. The soon to be released publication, The Brueg(H)el phenomenon, from the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK/IRPA) in Brussels, written by Christina Currie and Dominique Allart, puts forward evidence that the painting was painted near the year 1600, decades after Bruegel’s death.
For years scholars have been postulating that this work was not characteristic of Bruegel’s works in several key areas. Manfred Sellink, for example, in his magnificent 2007 monograph “Bruegel: The Complete Paintings, Drawings and Prints,” reviews the history of the attribution question.
The painting has always looked “off” to me. While it was the first Bruegel picture that captured my attention as a 17 year-old student all those year ago, each subsequent viewing of the painting indicated that something was not quite right about it. The most problematic aspect of the painting for me rests in the depiction of the peasant and his horse. The figures do not have the typical heft of Bruegel’s figures. Something about the man and the horse give the impression that they could almost lift off the painting and float into the sky.
The painting is one of the most famous of Bruegel’s works, with W. H. Auden writing an oft-quoted poem about the work.
We look forward to learning more about Currie and Allart’s findings with the release of their research early next year.
Further information here: http://www.codart.nl/news/724/