This is one of the finest known versions of Pieter Brueghel the Younger's Return from the Kermesse, a composition that enjoyed great popularity during the artist's lifetime and which appears to have been entirely of his own design.
The scene depicts a merry procession of villagers returning from a kermesse, apparently still very much in the throes of revelry, with figures dancing to a bagpipe, a couple embracing in a horse-drawn cart and a family returning home in the foreground. Beyond the cast of main protagonists, the artist has depicted a village scene bustling with life and all manner of activities, including figures dancing, sword-fighting, playing hockey, archery and processing to church, whilst to the right, a quiet avenue of trees and a stream recede into the distance, creating a second vanishing point to the composition.
This imagery was clearly in strong demand amongst the artist's clientele, for he reworked the composition in three principal variants: the present type, with the stream and avenue of trees on the right; a second type with a broken tree stump in the right foreground and the omission of the stream (as in the example in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels); and a third type in which a tavern is situated in the right foreground (as in the picture that was with Johnny van Haeften Galleries, London, in 2000). In his 2000 catalogue raisonné of the work of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Dr. Klaus Ertz lists a total of eighteen autograph versions of the three treatments, although it should be noted that the present type seems to exist in the fewest number of versions (see Literature).
At the time the present work was published by Marlier in 1969, the color illustration in his publication revealed the crouching figure of the woman on the right seated on a low bench. When the work was subsequently acquired by Galerie de Jonckheere, x-radiograph analysis revealed the bench to be a much later addition to the composition, which was then removed.
Oil on oak panel
London, The Hallsborough Gallery, Fine Paintings and Drawings of Five Centuries, 8 May - 21 June 1963;
Brussels, Gallery Finck, 26 November - 12 December 1965, no. 17.
19 5/8 by 31 1/8 in.; 50 by 79 cm.
Apollo Magazine, vol. LXXVII, May 1963, reproduced (in an advertisement for Hallsborough Gallery Exhibition);
G. Marlier, Pieter Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels 1969, p. 397, no. 4, reproduced p. 394, fig. 243 (in color);
M. Diaz Padrón, "La Obra de Pedro Brueghel el joven en España," in Archivo Español de Arte, 1980, p. 311;
K. Ertz in Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere - Jan Brueghel der Ältere. Flämische Malerei um 1600. Tradition und Fortschritt, exh. cat. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Lingen 1997, pp. 423-424, under no. 145, reproduced fig. 1;
K. Ertz in Pieter Brueghel le Jeune - Jan Brueghel l'Ancien. Une Famille des peintres flamands vers 1600, exh. cat. Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Lingen 1998, pp. 414, 416, under no. 150, reproduced fig. 150a;
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564-1637/38). Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oevrekatalog, Lingen 1988/2000, vol. II, pp. 886, 888, 918, no. 1309, reproduced in detail p. 888, fig. 720 (showing the bench that has since been removed [see note below]).
With Hallsborough Gallery, London, 1963;
Anonymous sale (The Property of a Gentleman), London, Sotheby's, 24 March 1965, lot 101;
Where acquired by "Patch" for 9,000 guineas;
Senator Descamps Collection, Brussels;
From whose descendants acquired by Galerie de Jonckheere, 1990;
From whom acquired by the present owner in 2000.