TENIERS, David the Younger
(b. 1610, Antwerpen, d. 1690, Bruxelles)
Peasants Dancing outside an Inn1645-50
Oil on canvas, 135,3 x 205,1 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor
Teniers was born in Antwerp and was taught by his father. He was received as a Master of the Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp in 1632/3, becoming its Dean in 1645/6, and in 1663 he became a founder member of the city's Académie Royale. For many years from 1651 Teniers worked in Brussels for the Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm, and subsequently for his successor as Governor, Don Juan of Austria. Apart from his paintings, Teniers's duties as art adviser to Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm are best seen in the publication Theatrum pictorium of 1660, an illustrated catalogue of part of the Archduke's collection. Teniers made many of the small preparatory painted copies, prior to engraving (there are some in the Royal Collection and several in the Courtauld Gallery, London), and oversaw the etchings for the catalogue. He spent five years in England from 1650 to 1655, apparently buying paintings as part of his activities as a dealer. Teniers was a man of considerable wealth, purchasing a country estate in 1662 and finally being ennobled in 1680. His first marriage was to Anne, the daughter of Jan Brueghel the Elder, but she died in 1656.
The painting, which would appear to date from the mid- or late 1640s, is essentially a genre scene of a type that had been pioneered by painters like Jan Brueghel the Elder, Frans Francken II and David Vinckboons. The broad characterisation of peasant types by Teniers is to some extent derived from Adriaen Brouwer, but the squat proportions of the figures, with their large heads and big feet, are typical of the artist's style. Not all the figures, however, are peasants. The couple in the left foreground, accompanied by a child and a dog, are bourgeois types. So too is the woman nearby being helped to her feet. Dress and coiffure suggest social distinctions that may give the painting extra meaning.
The inn in the left half of the composition occurs again in a painting in Dresden, but the general layout of the composition with buildings on the left, a tree with or without a fence marking the centre, and a distant view on the right is a well-established format in Teniers's work. Otherwise it is the range of observation and contrasting actions that holds the attention. The bagpiper leaning against the tree, the man vomiting, the man near the centre leaning on his stick, the dancers, the woman looking out of the window of the inn are all memorable figures in a painting of varied emotions and changing rhythms. The figure helping the woman to her feet anticipates Watteau, who was a keen admirer of Teniers. Genre, landscape and still life are all combined in this composition, which provides abundant proof of the artist's skills.