TENIERS, David the Younger
(b. 1610, Antwerpen, d. 1690, Bruxelles)

Flemish Kermess

Oil on canvas, 157 x 221 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

As a painter of landscapes, genre scenes and still-lifes, David Teniers the Younger is one of the most popular artists of the Flemish school of the 17th century. Initially influenced by Adriaen Brouwer, Teniers abandoned his predecessor's truculent, anecdotal genre around the time of his death in 1638, going on to develop a much more refined style, vigorous, delicate, and full of verve, as well as a brilliant and clever painting technique distinguished by a very light brush and subtle colouring. He was already at the summit of his art when in 1651 Archduke Leopold Wilhelm appointed him painter to the Brussels court. This prince's protection guaranteed him an immense success. Commissions flowed in from foreign sovereigns, in particular Phillip IV of Spain, forcing the artist to produce ever more and faster. The quality of his works, with simpler and less vigorous compositions, and less delicate colouring, inevitably suffered.

This canvas, of a size rare in Teniers' oeuvre, and dated 1652, shows a charming, well-behaved village kermess. The diagonal composition divides the painting into two, with a dark and less developed part to the left contrasting with the well-lit part to the right where the festivities are taking place in front of a series of houses. Divided into small groups, peasants in festive dress are dancing, eating, courting, chatting or simply listening to a bagpipe player. High-ranking figures who have just alighted from a barouche which remains in the shadow are approaching the kermess, but without real contact with the festive countryfolk. It is very possible that these elegant walkers, shown face-on, represent the painter himself accompanied by his wife Anna, the daughter of Jan "Velvet" Brueghel, and that the castle in the background to the left is the manor of Drij Torens at Perk that the artist rented for a number of years before purchasing it in 1662. The joyful, relaxed family festivity is evoked by the warm harmony of brown and yellow tones, subtly broken by local patches of red, turquoise and, in particular, superb whites.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 26 minutes):
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata BWV 212 (Bauernkantate)