London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Old Masters …, 1878, nos. 118, 125
Manuscript catalogue of the pictures and sculptures at Langley Hall, dated 1815, nos. 6,
J.P. Neale, Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen …, vol. 3, 1820
David Teniers was the greatest and certainly the most productive genre artist of the seventeenth century in the Southern Netherlands. He continued and reinterpreted the Bruegelian tradition of peasant painting. These two exquisitely painted allegories of summer and winter by his hand continue this medieval tradition of depictions of the seasons. Already in the famous, late fourteenth-century manuscript illuminations of the Limbourg brothers the subject of the seasons was used as a pretext to give an idealized vision of country life, replete with acutely observed detail. The seasons by Pieter Bruegel the Elder form another well-known highpoint in the genre and gave it fresh impetus. Showing the cycle of life and reminding of the fixed order of things, these series provided viewers with a welcome visual sense of stability in a time fraught with distress and confusion. At the same time, these scenes often contain a catalogue of comical detail typical for each season and offer entertainment.
In the summer scene two travellers wave goodbye to the landlord as they leave his inn, their dog leading the way. In the background a shepherd and dog keep a watchful eye on a herd of sheep. Creamy clouds stand out against the blue sky. The snow-covered landscape of the winter scene makes the cold palpable. An elderly couple with two swines can be seen in the foreground. A magpie is perched on the barren branch of the tree left, another approaches in the air. Plumes of smoke rise up from the chimneys.
Rural scenes were a popular theme in literature and in the visual arts ever since Vergil wrote his Bucolics. The alluring countryside attracted the well-to-do who purchased country residences to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful scenery. The artist himself was also well-off and in 1662/63 bought the manor called ‘Dry Toren’ near Brussels, from Jan van Brouchoven, the second husband of Rubens’s second wife, Hélène Fourment. Our pair of panels was probably painted in this mature phase of Teniers’ career during the 1660s.