Interestingly, Rembrandt’s earliest paintings, especially his series of the five sins, also
dated to c. 1624 show a similar palette and the penchant for lowlife protagonists
expressing a variety of emotions.12 It is likely that Rembrandt, who keenly kept abreast
with the latest novelties in Dutch painting from early on and would later in life own no less than eight paintings by Brouwer, had already been absorbing aspects of the latter’s
What certainly will have appealed to Rembrandt and which he adopted to great effect
from Brouwer in his small-scale juvenile works on panel is imbuing his images with a
powerful energy that far exceeds the small dimensions, as though the protagonists burst
from the picture plane. The latter quality is also apparent in our painting. Brouwer
achieved this here by placing a figure in pink and a blazing red cap on the foreground
and having him glance outside the painting, thus creating a strong link between our
presence and the painted scene. There is no way around it; the viewer is immediately
drawn into the rowdy interior.
However compellingly realistic and witty this scene may seem, Brouwer’s depictions
are entrenched in a long moralistic artistic and literary tradition of perceiving peasants
as exemplifying all kinds of sinful behaviour. Brouwer’s protagonists often quarrel, beat
each other up, smoke, drink heavily, feast, sing and sleep. As innocent playing a game
of cards nowadays is, in the early modern era it was deemed an idle pursuit par
excellence. Similarly, the man emptying a jug in our scene would have been seen as an
emblem of gluttony. This and similar manifestations of excessive unrestrained
behaviour convey by tradition a moral message, warning the spectator to live in
moderation and to refrain from idleness. Brouwer, however, added a new dimension to
this time-honoured subject matter with his spirited characterizations and it was this
quality that made his paintings so irresistible.
The appeal of Brouwer’s paintings is further enhanced by the appearance of a seemingly
effortless and spontaneous execution. This appearance, however, could only have been
achieved with the utmost disciplined concentration in wielding the brush. The
pentimenti that can be observed in our painting should therefore not be mistaken for
spontaneity, a rapid pace in the execution or a lack of preparation, but rather as a
relentless search for perfection during the work process.13 Brouwer’s sparkling scene is
no doubt the result of careful gestation. This beautifully preserved early work represents
a highpoint in Brouwer’s small and exquisite oeuvre. In it, his prized artistic virtuosity
and flavour of human comedy already reign in full glory.
1 A recent catalogue raisonné does not exist although Dr Karolien de Clippel, Hasselt, has been
working on one. Part of her material was incorporated in K. Lichtert (ed.), Adriaen Brouwer:
master of emotions : between Rubens and Rembrandt, exh. cat. Oudenaarde (MOU Museum
van Oudenaarde en de Vlaamse Ardennen) 2018. Oddly, Brouwer had not been included by
John Smith in his A catalogue raisonné of the works of the most eminent Dutch, Flemish, and
French painters, 8 vols. and a supplement, London 1829-42. The first attempt to catalogue
Brouwer’s oeuvre was: C. Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der
Werke der hervorragendsten Holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts, 10 vols., Esslingen & Paris 1907-28, vol. III (1910). Important subsequent monographic studies in which
Brouwer’s entire then known work is discussed are: W. Von Bode, Adriaen Brouwer: sein
Leben und seine Werke, Berlin 1924 and G. Knuttel, Wzn., Adriaen Brouwer: the master and
his work, The Hague 1962.
2 K. De Clippel, ‘Rubens meets Brouwer. Confrontations with low-life genre painting’,
Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 55 (2004), p. 317.
3 For a concise biography see Konrad Renger’s excellent entry in The Dictionary of Art, 34
vols., New York 1996, vol. 4, pp. 870-73.
4 Rubens owned no less than seventeen paintings. See for the list of Brouwer’s paintings in
Rubens’s possession: De Clippel 2004 (note 2), p. 328.
5 For this inventory see The Montias Database: https://research.frick.org/montias/details/1262. 6 ‘een dito [stuckie] van Speelders van den selven Brouwer’.
7 Written communication with Sander Bijl, 2020.
8 See for the reproductive prints that were made from his works: H. Scholz, Brouwer invenit:
druckgraphische Reproduktionen des 17.-19. Jahrhunderts nach Gemälden und Zeichnungen
Adriaen Brouwers, Marburg 1985. For an assessment of his imitators in the seventeenth century
both in the Northern and Southern Netherlands, see: K. Renger & H. von Sonnenburg, Adriaen
Brouwer und das niederländische Bauerngenre 1600-1660, exh. cat. Munich (Alte Pinakothek)
1986, pp. 52-63.
9 See Renger (see under literature), p. 29.
10 The Amsterdam duim was 2.57 cm. For this see: J.M. Verhoeff, De oude Nederlandse maten
en gewichten, Amsterdam 1983. The two different duimen that were used in seventeenthcentury Haarlem do not tally with the length of the panel (which as opposed to the width is
leading in determining the local inch used).
11 Professor Klein, Hamburg, writes in his report of 6 December 2016: ‘Unter Voraussetzung
der Splintholzstatistik für Osteuropa ergibt sich ein frühestes Fälldatum des verwendeten
Baumes ab 1620 eher wahrscheinlich ist jedoch ein Fälldatum zwischen 1624..1626....1630.
Eine früheste Entstehung des Gemäldes wäre bei einer minimalen Lagerzeit des Holzes von
zwei Jahren ab 1622 denkbar. Eher ist jedoch bei einem Median von 15 Splintholzjahrringen
und einer minimalen Lagerzeit des Holzes von 2 Jahren eine Entstehung des Gemäldes ab 1628
12 Karolien de Clippel was the first to point out these parallels in a lecture at the Historians of
Netherlandish Art Congress held in Antwerp in 2002 (email communication with De Clippel of
7 January 2017). For three of this series, see: E. van de Wetering, A Corpus of Rembrandt
Paintings: Rembrandt's Paintings Revisited: a Complete Survey, 6 vols., Dordrecht etc., 2014,
nr. 1-3, pp. 480-81. A fourth painting from the series resurfaced in 2016 and is presently with
two of the other paintings in the Leiden Collection, New York. Influence of the Utrecht
Caravaggist painters such as Gerard van Honthorst have also, rightly so, been detected in
Rembrandt’s early series. See for instance: E. van de Wetering et al., The mystery of the young
Rembrandt, exh. cat. Kassel (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister); Amsterdam (Rembrandthuis) 2001-
02, pp. 152ff.
13 Infraredreflectography reveals a number of small and larger pentimenti, the most prominent
being the seated man in the left and the swine in the lower right corner, which initially seems to
have been a different animal. Jasper Hillegers kindly pointed out that Brouwer copied the
animal from a print by Marcus Gheeraerts in Edouard de Dene’s De waarachtighe fabulen der
dieren (Bruges 1567), fol. 102.