In this raucous caricature of an afternoon at a village kermis or jaarmark,1 Jan Steen has created a tour-de-force of narrative and theatre, assembling his cast on a vine-covered terrace which naturally doubles as the stage-set on which the drama unfolds. This is Steen's first essay with a composition that, uniquely, he later repeated, on a larger scale, on canvas and in reverse, which is in the Widener collection and now hangs in Washington, National Gallery of Art, inv. no. 1942.9.81 (Fig. 1).2
The execution of this painting is consistent with the artist's work of the late 1650s when living in Leiden, where he was influenced by Gerrit Dou, Frans van Mieris, Gabriel Metsu and others. However, it seems likely that this was one of Steen's first commissions after his arrival in Haarlem, where the artist moved with his family in 1660 and spent his most productive years as a painter. This notion is reinforced by the measurements of the panel which ally themselves neatly with the Haarlem 'inch', at the time equivalent to 2.76 cm.; the horizontal axis which, unlike the vertical axis, is not subject to shrinkage over the years, measures 77.2 cm. and is thus equivalent to exactly 28 'Haarlem' inches.3 The Washington canvas, dated 1663 and therefore certainly executed in Haarlem, is, with its broad brushstrokes, large dimensions4 and canvas support, entirely consistent with Steen's mature Haarlem period. An x-radiograph of the Washington picture (Fig. 2) endorses the earlier dating of the present work, revealing the male protagonist to have been originally conceived bald-headed and grasping an ordinary hat in his hand, thus exactly mirroring his appearance in the present work. That Steen repeated this composition on such a large scale indicates the level of esteem in which the artist must have held it.
This, and Steen's other spirited depictions of village fairs, have their origins over a hundred years earlier in the work of the Fleming Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1569); Steen's success with this genre is however more directly due to his pupilage under Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685), the first of the great Dutch genre painters and caricaturists. But where Ostade's cast is usually limited to local peasants, Steen's incorporates all manner of classes; here, a boorish peasant is seen boisterously dancing with an elegant city girl. To the boor's left he places a well-dressed young boy and, in the background either side of the girl, two leering peasants. Steen's genius thus lies not only in his contradictory cast but also in the interaction of opposing characters, most obviously between the ill-matched dancers, and their careful arrangement within the space.
The majority of Steen's paintings are typified by a similar theatrical nature and in fact are sometimes, as in the case of his Rederijker pictures, literally theatrical. Rederijkers were members of amateur dramatic and literary societies known as Rederijkerskamers and membership included many painters, including Frans Hals and Adriaen Brouwer. Their theatrical activity, often played out to the public, would have appealed greatly to Steen although he is not known to have been a member himself. He painted the rederijkers, or rhetoricians, on several occasions, the best known examples of which are perhaps in Philadelphia, Museum of Art, and Worcester (Mass.), Art Museum, where the rhetoricians are seen performing from a window.5 The amplified expressions of some of the characters in the present work and the exaggerated pose of the male protagonist are clearly rendered with a similar theatrical intent.
Typical of the dramatic tension is the artist's depiction of himself, behind the table, flirtatiously stroking the chin of a would-be suitor drinking from a wine glass, while placing, directly in front, a devoted mother with her child who bear a striking resemblance to his wife and daughter.6 Steen counters the unbreakable ties of a mother and daughter with the fallibility of those between husband and wife, a moral comment that would not have been lost on the contemporary spectator. Likewise the empty barrel positioned prominently in the centre foreground would have brought to mind Roemer Visscher's Sinnepoppen: 'Een vol vaten bomt niet' ('A full barrel doesn't resound') which implies a contrast between the transient words uttered by ignorant or 'empty' people with the meaningful voice of sensible folk; appropriately the barrel exactly divides the sensible folk on the left from the cavorting peasants on the right. Further comment on the transient nature of man and his immoral pleasures is made, most obviously, by the cut flowers strewn across the paving and, more subtly, in the bubbles blown by the boy to the left, a reference to homo bulla, the concept that while man's life appears joyful and glistening, it can burst and disappear in an instant. In the same vein, Steen depicts each of the three ages of man and, for good measure, allegorises each of the five senses.
With his second version of this composition in Washington, Steen not only flips the composition into reverse but adds certain details to render his meanings more blatant; for example, on the head of the laughing peasant leaning over the fence he places caged fowl; and he hangs a basket of birds from the vine directly above the lecherous man advancing on the young peasant girl at the rear. Both these additions, playing on the Dutch verb vogelen which means both 'to bird' and 'to have sexual intercourse', explicitly emphasize the sexual intent of both the male dancer and the lecherous peasant.
Steen's original intent with the second version was, however, not so blatant. The x-radiograph of the Washington picture demonstrates that the poultry-seller leaning over the fence between the two dancers was originally executed without the cage and, instead, thrust a beer glass into the air. The male protagonist, similarly, was first portrayed exactly as he is in the present work, clasping an ordinary hat in his hand; only later did the artist place the more frivolous feather-capped cap on his head and enlarge his collar in order to highlight his vulgarity and rude intentions.
Where the signature on the Washington version is simply added lower left, in the present work it was originally painted as a trompe l'oeil, appearing as carved into the stone; the shadowed paets have now partly worn away leaving only the highlights clearly visible to the untrained eye.
A note on the provenance: The first known owner, Pieter de la Court van der Voort (b. 1665) was a citizen of Leiden. He was the eldest son from his father's (Pieter de la Court 1618-1685) second marriage to Catherina van der Voort and was a great collector of art. While the present work was probably acquired by him for his collection in the early 18th century, it is also possible that it was commissioned directly from Steen by his father, perhaps to mark the occasion of his (re-)marriage in Leiden in 1661 (i.e. the presumed date the painting was executed).7 Being a public figure in Leiden (see below) it is likely that Pieter de la Court would have known or at least been aware of Jan Steen (who lived there from 1656 to 1660) and may have thus commissioned the painting in 1661 directly from Steen who had moved to Haarlem the year before. On his death in 1685 the painting would than have passed directly to his son, Pieter de la Court van der Voort, in whose deceased sale it was sold in 1772 (see Provenance).8
A hardy advocate of republican government, Pieter de la Court was a prominent political figure in Leiden and author of the bestselling Interest van Holland (1662) in which he described the cause and effect of Dutch economic success which he put down to free competition and free (or 'republican') government. Putting his theories into practice he tried to break up the monopoly of the Dutch East India Company in a number of ways, most ambitiously by sending a ship to the Arctic to find a shipping route around Siberia to counter the East India Company's route around the Cape of Good Hope. The venture failed but with it De la Court's fame grew and he continued his mission to create a political system open to economic innovation. Both father and son sat to Godfried Schalcken in 1676-79 (Figs. 3 and 4 respectively).9
1 A kermis was a fair of a religious nature and a jaarmarkt was an annual market.
2 See A.K. Wheelock, Dutch Paintings of the seventeenth Century. National Gallery of Art, Washington, New York and Oxford 1995, pp. 364-69.
3 The exact centimetre equivalent would be 77.28 cm. Martin Bijl allows a maximum of 2 mm. leeway with these measurements; the measurement of this picture thus falls well within the range. Each town had its own unit of measurement, making it possible to determine the origin of a panel by size; see M. Bijl, "The Artist's Working Method", in H. Perry Chapman et al., under Literature, pp. 84 and 91, footnote 18.
4 It measures 102.5 by 142.5 cm.; 40 3/8 by 56 1/8 in..
5 See H. Perry Chapman, under Literature, pp. 176-79, no. 24, reproduced, and fig. 2. A depiction of the rhetoricians feasting sold London, Sotheby's, 7 July 2004, lot 17.
6 The mother and daughter should be compared with those in the left foreground of Steen's The Fair at Warmond sold in these Rooms, 5 July 2006, lot 29, which K. Braun (see Literature, p.119) identifies as Steen's wife and daughter (he is seated with them. As compared with The Fair at Warmond, in the present work Steen, his wife and his daughter are clearly a few years more advanced in age. Ben Broos (see Literature) tentatively suggested that the woman whose chin Steen is seen touching could be identified as his wife, based on a comparison with the woman slouched across a chair in the foreground of Steen's As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young in the Mauritshuis; this latter, however, bears no resemblance to the young woman in the present work but does resemble, quite closely, the woman seated with the child on her lap.
7 The scene depicted may in fact be a wedding dance and indeed has been known throughout much of its history variously as "Jan Steen's wedding" or "The marriage of Jan Steen's daughter" (both of which are implausible given the painting's date of execution: Steen was married in 1649 to Margriet van Goyen and later to Maria van Egmont in 1673; no daughter would have been old enough for marriage by circa 1660).
8 Pieter de la Court van der Voort's son, Allard, produced an inventory of the De la Court family collection; this Catalogus van schilderijen, opgemaakt in duplo, december 1749 is today in Leiden, Regional Archief (no. 01.2.10 Families) but the handwriting is extremely difficult to read. Four paintings by Jan Steen can be identified with certainty, although the present work is not among them; they are: 'Een schooltje', 'Een Chirurgyns', 'Vegtende Boeren en Boerinne', and 'Een zeer aardig en slordig hyushouden verbeeldende St. Niclaas'. However, that the painting appears in the catalogue of his collection in 1772 (the title of the sale catalogue was "Kabinet Schilderyen... van wylen den Heere Pieter de la Court van der Voort"; or "Cabinet of Paintings of the late Pieter de la Court van der Voort") testifies to his ownership of it.
9 The Portrait of Pieter de la Court (1618-1685) is in Leiden, Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, inv. no. 382, and the Portrait of Pieter de la Court van der Voort was last recorded with Johnny van Haeften, London, in the 1980s; see T. Beherman, Godfried Schalken, Paris 1988, pp. 180-2, cat. no. 82, and pp. 164-65, cat. no. 65 respectively.
A technical report on this painting, being prepared by Martin Bijl, author of the chapter devoted to Jan Steen's working methods in the 1996-7 Jan Steen exhibition catalogue, will be available from Monday 2nd July. Mr Bijl has inspected this painting in the original, and has kindly informed us that he also believes that it predates the Washington version.
Oil on oak panel
Jan Havicksz. Steen
London, British Institution, Catalogue of Pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch and English Masters, July 1832, no. 161 (as' The marriage of Jan Steen's Daughter'), where lent by Charles Brind Esq.;
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Danses et Divertissements, 1948-49, no. 198;
The Hague, Mauritshuis, Jan Steen: Tentoonstelling georganiseerd door de Stichting Johan Mauritz van Nassau, 20 December 1958 - 15 February 1959, no. 18, reproduced plate 18, where lent by the Duchesse de Brissac (with erroneous dimensions: 59 by 37 cm.).
55.7 by 77.2 cm.; 22 by 30 3/8 in.
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné..., London 1833, p. 50, under cat. no. 150;
T. van Westrheene, Jan Steen: Étude sur l'Art en Hollande, The Hague 1856, p. 120, no. 90 (as in the collection of Charles Brind; it was however sold in his deceased sale, 1849, see Provenance);
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné..., London 1908, vol. I, p. 128, no. 479, p. 152, no. 585, p. 169, under no. 646, p. 172, under no. 655;
A. Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions 1813-1912, vol. III, London 1914, p. 1255;
Jan Steen: Tentoonstelling georganiseerd door de Stichting Johan Mauritz van Nassau, exhibition catalogue, The Hague, Mauritshuis, 20 December 1958 - 15 February 1959, cat. no. 18, reproduced plate 18 (with erroneous dimensions: 59 by 37 cm).;
K, Braun, Jan Steen: Alle tot nu Toe Bekende Schilderijen, Rotterdam 1980, p. 111, cat. no. 181, reproduced;
B. Broos et al., Great Dutch Paintings from America, exhibition catalogue, Zwolle 1990, p. 422, reproduced fig. 3, p. 423, note 27 (with measurements listed as 59 by 37 cm. and as Location Unknown, and listed as a copy but known only from an old photograph; the author states that "certainty on this point is not possible until this copy becomes available for comparison");
H. Perry Chapman et al., Jan Steen: Painter and Storyteller, exhibition catalogue, Washington, National Gallery, 28 April - 17 August 1996; and Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 21 September 1996 - 12 January 1997, p. 165, note 3 (with wrong dimensions: 59 by 37 cm).
Pieter de la Court van der Voort, Leiden (1665-1739);
His deceased sale, Amsterdam, Slagregen, 26 August 1772, lot 6, to Fouquet for 215 florins;
Pierre Fouquet Jr. (a 'marchand d'estampes');
His deceased sale, Amsterdam, Van der Schley, 13-14 April 1801, lot 66, for 265 guilders to La Fontaine;
Possibly Mr. Wilkinson, Gloucester Place, London;
Anonymous sale, ('The Property of a Gentleman, Deceased. Removed from his late residence in Gloucester Place'), possibly Mr Wilkinson (according to Westrheene, see Literature), London, Christie's, 25 April 1828, lot 110, for £114 9s to Emmerson (as 'The Wedding Day');
Charles Brind collection, by 1832;
His deceased sale, London, Christie's, 12 May 1849, lot 67, for £109 4s. to W. Theobald (as 'the Painter and his family merrymaking at the wedding of his daughter');
Thomas Capron, London;
His sale, London, Christie's, 3 May 1851, lot 80, for 190 gns to Lightfoot (as 'Jan Steen's wedding');
M. Schneider ('President du corps legislatif'), Paris;
His deceased sale, Paris, Pillet & Escribe, Hôtel Drouot, 6-7 April 1876, lot 36, for FF 7,000 to Jacobi;
Duchesse de Brissac, Paris, by 1958;
With Richard Green, London, 1996;
From whom acquired by the present owner.