Pieter Brueghel the Younger
1564 Brussels - 1637/1638 Antwerp
Winter Village Landscape with "The Swan" Tavern
Oil on panel (parquetted). 47 x 63 cm.
Signed and dated lower right: P. Brueghel 1620.
Galerie Scheidwimmer, Munich, 1970. - Private collection, Germany. - Private collection, Belgium.
Klaus Ertz: Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere, Lingen 1988/2000, vol. II, p. 828, no. E1148, illus. 634.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger was the eldest son of the famous “Peasant Brueghel”. He was the one of his sons who followed his father’s genre most closely. As Klaus Ertz remarks, this further increased his fame posthumously. He was only five years old when his famous father passed away, so it is thought that Gillis van Conixloo instructed the young Pieter Brueghel in his stead. Despite this, his father’s significant œuvre remained the most important source of inspiration for Pieter the Younger’s style and motifs. Much of this inspiration had to be derived from prints, as the majority of his father’s highly sought-after paintings were already housed in collections outside of Flanders.
At that time, Emperor Rudolf II was one of the most avid collectors of Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s works. It would not have been possible to paint the present panel without this source, as it is clearly inspired by the “January” composition from a series of the twelve months painted 50 years before and kept in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The dark silhouettes of bare-branched trees, the pale winter light, the frozen water, the snow-topped rooftops, and rustic figures are all present in this earlier masterpiece. But Pieter the Younger’s composition is slightly more crowded, and with more prominent genre elements.
We look down upon a winter village scene with a frozen stream running through it. The unusual round structure on the left bank is recognisable by its painted sign as the “Swan” tavern. On the opposite bank, cottages huddle together beneath a blanket of snow. The scene is populated by just a few lonely, but in the lower left we also see a peasant couple arguing and two soldiers with their dogs.
Klaus Ertz lists four slightly differing versions of this composition, all painted in the early 1620s, of which the present work, dated 1620, is the earliest (K. Ertz, op. cit., no. 1149, 1150, and 1151).