collection, France for several generations until 2006
With Johnny Van Haeften Limited, London, 2006
Private collection, England, 2006-2023
Together with Adriaen Brouwer (1605/6-1638), David Teniers the Younger was the most important seventeenth-century Flemish painter of low-life genre scenes. Unlike Brouwer, who was short-lived and left a small oeuvre, Teniers produced an extensive body of work in a career spanning some fifty years. He was enormously versatile: low-life subjects were his speciality, but he also painted high-life, guardroom, religious and mythological scenes, landscapes, allegories, portraits, gallery paintings and monkey satires.
From quite humble beginnings, Teniers rose rapidly to the top of his profession. In 1633, he became a master in the Antwerp guild of St. Luke and, by 1645, was dean of the guild. Both his marriage in 1637 to Anna Brueghel, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625), and his association with Rubens (1577-1640), who was a witness at their wedding, accelerated his rise to fame. From the late 1640s, he enjoyed the patronage of prominent individuals, including the Archbishop of Bruges and the art-loving Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, Governor of the Southern Netherlands, to whom he became court painter in 1651. His success brought him both wealth and status, and his paintings remained popular long after his death.
Village festivals and kermis scenes are a recurring theme in David Teniers’s oeuvre. It is surely no coincidence that he began to paint these subjects shortly after his marriage to Anna Brueghel. Through this alliance, Teniers came into possession of drawings and paintings by various members of the Brueghel family, including Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525/30-1569). In his own work, he gave a fresh interpretation to such themes, showing enormous ingenuity in his orchestration of crowds of dancing and feasting figures. From the outset, his large multi-figured depictions of rural celebrations enjoyed great popularity with collectors and admirers of his art. In 1650/51, Teniers painted the Village Holiday, now in Richmond, Virginia[i], for his most important patron the Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm. He is also known to have produced a similar, now-lost scene for William II, Prince of Orange[ii].
This painting, dated 1642, is among the most attractive of Teniers’s many kermis scenes. In the rustic courtyard of an inn, people of all ages are celebrating a village feast day. They sit at tables, eating and drinking, stand about in groups, chatting, embrace one another, and dance energetically to the strains of a bagpiper standing on a barrel. The sun shines brightly overhead and the rose-coloured banner of St. George flutters cheerfully in the light breeze. The mood is generally one of carefree enjoyment, but Teniers has nevertheless taken the opportunity to remind us of the less desirable consequences of overindulgence: a drunken man lies in the foreground, sleeping off his excesses, while another throws up by the inn sign, and a third is being led away reluctantly in the background. The right-hand corner is occupied by a beautifully painted still life of rustic household objects.
The delicacy of touch, light, silvery tonality, and bright palette, with accents of red, blue and white, are characteristic of Teniers’s work from his early maturity. The painting’s exceptionally fine condition and vibrant colours are in a large part due to Teniers’s choice of a copper support.
Baptised in Antwerp on 15 December 1610, David Teniers was the son of a painter and art dealer of the same name. He studied first with his father, becoming a master in the Antwerp guild of St. Luke in 1632/33. On 22 June 1637, Teniers married Anna Brueghel, daughter of the celebrated painter, Jan Brueghel the Elder. Since the latter’s death in 1625, Rubens had been Anna’s guardian and was also a witness at her wedding. This alliance brought Teniers wealth and status. In 1642, the young couple took up residence in Brueghel’s former home, ‘De Meireminne’ (The Siren) in the Lange Nieuwstraat.
In 1644/45, when Teniers was elected dean of the Antwerp Guild, his fame was reaching its peak. During these years he enjoyed the patronage of the art lover and connoisseur, Antonius Triest, Bishop of Ghent and it was through his influence that, in 1647, Teniers received his first commission from the newly appointed Governor of the Southern Netherlands, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm. In 1650, Teniers moved to Brussels to take up a position in the archduke’s service, as his ayuda de camera, or chamberlain. In 1651, he travelled to London to purchase paintings from the former collection of Charles I and painted a series of interior views of Leopold Wilhelm’s gallery of paintings. He also embarked upon an ambitious project to produce an illustrated catalogue of the Italian pictures in the archducal collection. To this end, he painted small-scale copies of the Archduke’s paintings which served as modelli for the 243 engravings, eventually published at the artist’s expense in 1660, four years after Leopold Wilhelm’s return to Vienna. Teniers continued to serve as Court Painter to his successor, Don Juan of Austria, until 1659. His other royal patrons included Philip IV of Spain, Queen Christina of Sweden, James II of England and William of Orange.
In 1656 Teniers’s wife Anna died. Less than six months later he married Isabella de Fren, daughter of the secretary of the Council of Brabant. In 1655, Teniers had been granted the right to bear a coat of arms, but following his marriage to Isabella, a lady of superior social rank, he petitioned Philip IV to grant him a noble title. In 1662, he was able to acquire a country estate, “Dry Toren” (Three Towers), at Perk, close to Rubens’s former residence, “Het Steen”. In 1663, Teniers was instrumental in the founding of the Academy in Antwerp, based on the Roman and Parisian models. He continued working well into old age - the latest dated painting is of 1683 - and died in Brussels in April 1690.
[i] David Teniers II, Village Holiday, signed, canvas, 54 x 93 cm, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A., inv. no. 1156.
[ii] A drawing recording the design (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt) is inscribed with an instruction to execute a painting from it for “His Highness my Lord the Prince of Orange” (in translation).