The motif of the smoker recurs with frequency throughout Teniers’ genre scenes. Smoking was, at the time, a favorite pastime in the Netherlands among members off all classes of society. Domestically-harvested tobacco leaf was grown in large quantities, and a tobacco processing industry that still thrives today had emerged to cure, spin, and cut the weed. During the same time an allied industry grew up to manufacture clay pipes, which were first introduced by English soldiers into the Netherlands. Members of the lower class could usually only afford the shorter-stemmed pipes like the one shown here, which would not have moderated the acrid taste that gave early forms of tobacco their legendary power to stupefy and nauseate the smoker. Here, the slumped posture and of the foreground figure, along with the pipe and mug in his hands, suggest he has perhaps indulged in a bit too much tobacco and beer.
Teniers was a sharp observer of human nature and the subject of a tavern interior with rowdy figures often in some stage of intoxication allowed him to explore a variety of facial expressions, as well as demonstrate his virtuosity in painting smoke. Among Tenier’s most celebrated examples of smokers are Le Bonnet rouge (1644; Wrotham Park, Byng Collection, Wrotham Park), Le Bonnet vert (1636/7; Madrid; Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection), The Smoker (1645; St. Petersburg, Hermitage), Interior with a smoker at a table (1643; Paris, Louvre) and Boors carousing (1644; London, Wallace Collection). The present work was engraved in 1745 (fig. 1).