WILLEM VAN HERP (Antwerp c. 1614 – Antwerp 1677)
Interior of an Inn with Card Players
signed G.V. Herp in the lower right
oil on panel
24 x 36 inches (61 x 91.5 cm.)
Phillips Sale, New York, June 10, 1981, lot 73, illustrated, where purchased by
Private collection, New York
In 1676, Willem van Herp declared that he was 62 years old, from which we may conclude that he was born c. 1614. He was first registered by the Antwerp guild of St. Luke as a pupil in 1625/6, so at about 11 years old, and first features as an independent master in the guild records of 1637/8. His oeuvre, only a small part of which is signed, consists mainly of religious, historical and mythological scenes, and genre paintings, representing both high and low-life. Van Herp was a successful artist who produced a lot of work for export, mainly to Spain, both through Antwerp dealers such as Musson and Forchoudt, and upon direct commissions from Spanish patrons. In 1654, he married Maria Wolffort, daughter of the painter Artus Wolffort. Two of his sons, Norbertus and Willem also became painters and he is known to have taught several pupils.
In an inn, some smokers by the fireplace are troubling a waitress; one of them has moved his hand under her apron, which is being tugged on by a small boy, while another man grabs her from behind. Although the girl tries to remove his hand from her hip, her expression seems to indicate that she is not really displeased with all this male attention. To the right, a man and a woman are playing cards, watched by a boy, while the landlady marks the guests’ consumptions on a blackboard.
The man groping under the girl’s apron has a game bag strapped on his back, which identifies him as a hunter, most likely in more than one way. The male card player is pointing at the winning ace of spades he has just placed upon the table, and the drinker in the centre appears to be charming the woman next to him, while he holds his clay pipe upright. The theme of this painting is obviously the ‘games’ between men and women. The cat and dog in the picture most probably also play a role in this: like the men are making a pass at the women, the cat is waiting for its chance to get to the dish the dog is licking.
Willem van Herp was undoubtedly inspired by the many genre pictures painted by David Teniers the Younger, while many of his history pieces were influenced by Rubens. The jauntiness of the latter’s style clearly also had its impact on Van Herp’s manner of painting genre scenes. As a result, even his low-life scenes have a degree of elegance that cannot be found similarly with Teniers and certainly not with the initiator of this type of image, Adriaen Brouwer. In Van Herp’s genre paintings there are usually several equally significant groups of figures in action, in this case the suitors, the chatting couple and the card players. In the works of his contemporaries, the action is usually concentrated on just one single group of protagonists.
Many of Willem van Herp’s paintings exist in more than one version. Also of our composition at least three other versions are known. The most elaborate one featured in a major exhibition on Flemish art in 1993.  The present version contains several pentimenti, which indicates that Van Herp has consciously reworked the image, rather than simply reproduced it. He omitted three figures in the background, while the dog has been moved closer to the centre. This has resulted in a composition that gives a more compact and intimate impression than each of the other versions, but which maintains all of Van Herp’s characteristic liveliness.
Fred G. Meijer
 Oil on copper, 79 x 100 cm, exhibiton Rubens and his Age, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts and Toledo, Toledo Museum of Art, 1993, cat. no. 74, colour ill. (catalogue entry by Peter Sutton). More recently it was with Noortman Master Paintings, Maastricht. The two other versions are, respectively, oil on canvas, 54 x 77 cm., in sale Copenhagen, Rasmussen, April 25/27, 1967, lot 14, ill. and oil on panel, 72.5 x 99 cm., sale London, Phillips, July 2, 1991, lot 50, colour ill.