JAN BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER (Antwerp 1601 – Antwerp 1678)
A Wooded Landscape with Horse-Drawn Carts, Riders, and Peasants on a Hillside Path
signed BRVEGHEL in the lower right center
oil on panel
11 x 13 ½ inches (28 x 34.5 cm.)
Anonymous Sale, Christie’s, New York, January 31, 1997, lot 8 (where stated “The present painting will be included in the forthcoming addenda to Klaus Ertz’s catalogue raisonné on Jan Brueghel II, currently in production; and is sold with a certificate from Dr. Ertz dated Dec. 13, 1994 as by Jan Brueghel II.”) where purchased by
Private Collection, New York, until the present time
The eldest son of Jan Breughel the Elder, Jan the Younger trained with his father in Antwerp before setting off for Italy with his childhood friend Anthony van Dyck around 1620. He returned in 1625, becoming a member of the Antwerp painter’s guild (he would become Dean in 1630) and taking over his recently deceased father’s thriving studio. While he remained active in his native city throughout his long career, his clients came from across Europe and included the Austrian and French courts. The subject matter of his paintings was varied, although he is best known for his idealized landscapes, which might feature villages, mythological scenes, allegories, or animals. His rendering of pastoral landscapes is characterized by a meticulous handling of receding space, with figures, animals, objects, and natural elements forming the markers for convincing panoramic views on an intimate scale.
Brueghel was a master of creating a microcosm of the world in the limited space of a cabinet picture, here one roughly one foot square. In our composition, a hay wain is drawn by two horses, one gray and one chestnut, with a red-coated driver raising a whip to drive his team forward. Moving up the hill in the opposite direction is a solitary horse and rider wearing cape and hat, preceded by a leaping dog and followed at a distance by two peasant women carrying baskets, one with goods atop her head. Behind the rider, a flock of sheep grazes, a few black ones keeping to themselves as a shepherd watches at left. Making their way up the path at center towards the grove of trees is a small family group—a man carrying bundles on his back, then a woman with goods or a broad hat on her head, and then a younger woman—while further down the path two figures, one on horseback, follow.
A substantial house is set at the edge of the woods, a touch of red indicating a person standing outside. Down the road in front of the hay wain, ruts in the road extend from a covered wagon with a man walking beside. Another figure leads—all heading down into the valley where a village with small buildings surrounding a church is nestled in the woods. Birds punctuate the sky, one hovering over the travelers in the middle-ground, two seen high against the clouds, and a miniscule one flying over the distant village. Another bird pecks at the earth in the foreground, not far from the animal bones lying by the side of the road.
The overall composition of the painting is created from a series of irregular diagonals delineating broad fields of color. The first, in the foreground, is largely brown and rises at the left to include the massive trees that frame the scene. The middle-ground includes the wooded area and forms a green triangle pointing into the distance. The blue sky and blue-hazed landscape complete the vista. The two groups of travelers each progress on diagonal biases, one from and one to a distant point at the right, while the countervalent lines of the horizon and the clouds serve to create a complex miniature world depicting rural life—active, harmonious, and at one with nature.