(b. ca. 1605, Oudenaerde, d. 1638, Antwerpen)
Oil on oak, 25,5 x 21 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
Born in Oudenaerde in Belgium, Adriaen Brouwer studied painting in Amsterdam, then Haarlem, where he came into contact with members of local rhetorical chambers, before settling in Antwerp. Admitted as a free master to the painters' guild in 1632, he also became a member of the rhetorical chamber associated with it. He was popular with his Antwerp colleagues who repurchased his freedom - perhaps by acquiring certain of his paintings when he was imprisoned for debt.
Adriaen Brouwer specialised in depicting characters on the edge of society spending their time in licentious activities such as card-playing or alcohol and tobacco abuse. This debauched behaviour was looked down on by the members of bourgeois society who saw in it the confirmation of their own moral superiority. During his brief career Brouwer produced only a few dozen works, but revolutionised genre painting with his original synthesis between village scenes with a Bruegelian inspiration and Haarlem genre painting. His great pictorial mastery aroused the admiration of his peers, and painters and collectors like Rubens and Rembrandt owned several of his pictures.
Under the influence of early biographers, who attempted to draw parallels between the author's work and his life, experts have sought to see in the background of the Seated Drinkers the wall of Antwerp citadel, then a jail, where the painter was imprisoned. This is, however, unlikely: the artist represented this type of rudimentary landscape several times over, with no link between the subject matter and his time behind bars. On the other hand, the finesse of this finely tempered little masterpiece has been rightly recognised from the outset. Here Brouwer has reached his full maturity. A few delicate red and yellow highlights are enough to enliven a composition largely dominated by subtly gradated browns and greys. If one needed to make a comparison between the painter's life and his work, it would be between the artist's untiring interest for theatre life and the very convincing way in which he succeeds in translating the psychological interplay of the figures.