A Peasant in a Window Smoking Pipe

by Adriaen van Ostade (1610 - 1685)
1654
Oil on panel

A tipsy peasant leans out of a window holding his lit pipe. A plume of smoke escapes from the pipe’s head. The chap’s watery eyes glance without focus. He already seems quite intoxicated by the alcohol and tobacco.

This witty and hitherto unpublished small panel is typical for Ostade, the chief practitioner of Dutch peasant genre painting in the seventeenth century. According to his biographer Arnold Houbraken, Ostade was a pupil of Frans Hals at the same time as Adriaen Brouwer. While Hals does not seem to have exerted noticeable influence on Ostade, Brouwer on the other hand, having quickly developed as the heir of Bruegelian peasant art, became pivotal. By the early 1630s, Ostade had already established a reputation of his own outside his native Haarlem, having registered with the Haarlem guild of St. Luke in 1634.

Ostade thus began his career painting scenes of brawling and gambling peasants in a restricted palette of browns, strongly indebted to those of Brouwer. Although taverns, barns and cottages crowded with peasants remained his favourite subject, his raucous atmospheres began to be replaced by more tranquil scenes during the 1640s and he enriched his stock of settings with placid domestic courtyards and doorways. In these later works Ostade limited the number of protagonists. Simultaneously, his technique and colouring grew ever more refined. Ostade’s mature genre productions convey an idealized view of peasant life in which the characters are friendly and caring individuals. This is a fine specimen.

In Ostade’s day smoking was a still relatively new habit and elicited diverse responses. Some seventeenth-century doctors recommended it as a health product, attributing medicinal properties to the weed. Preachers condemned smoking because of its harmful intoxicant effects and equated it with the excessive use of alcohol. Smokers figuring in seventeenth-century imagery could convey an array of meanings. A smoker could represent one of the five senses. The quickly vanishing smoke was also likened to the evanescence of life and thus a thankful vanitas motif. Low-life genre scenes, such as by Brouwer and Ostade, typically satirize the immoderate pursuit of sensual gratification. In Adriaen van Ostade’s universe, smoking, along with drinking, singing and wooing, is the main activities of his protagonists. In his later paintings, such as the present, the artist views these peasants indulging in this pastime with an eye of clemency instead of stern disapproval.

Adriaen van Ostade not only painted, but also etched and drew smoking peasants, and throughout his long career. A good number of his paintings dedicated to the subject are preserved in important museums across the globe.

Ostade was the fifth child born to the weaver Jan Hendricx van Eyndhoven and Janneke Hendriksdr. In 1636 he was a member of the militia company Oude Schuts. Two years later he married the catholic Machteltje Pietersdr of Haarlem. The artist is next mentioned in Haarlem records from 1640, when Salomon van Ruysdael sued him for default in payment of fourteen guilders for tuition and board. In 1642, Ostade and his wife drew up a will. She died the same year upon which the artist remarried in 1657 with Anna Ingels, also a catholic and from a wealthy family. In 1666, Ostade’s second wife died leaving the painter a substantial inheritance. His oeuvre, yet to be catalogued and studied in depth, consists of a large body of around 800 hundred paintings, about fifty etchings and about four hundred drawings and over 50 watercolours. Among his many talented pupils were his brother Isack, Cornelis Dusart, Cornelis Bega, Michiel van Musscher and Jan Steen.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Signed and dated lower left “Av[A and v in ligature] ostade // 1654”

Size: 28 x 21.8 cm

Provenance: Private collection, Germany

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