Preserved in the same family collection for more than half a century, this is one of the select number of works by Vinckboons which were recognised and published by the scholar Korneel Goossens, who remains the only art historian to have dedicated a monographic work (op. cit.) to the paintings of this important figure in the development of landscape art. As Goossens notes, the basic composition of this work, with a bridge spanning a limpid pool in the foreground, and a winding valley receding through imposing mountains into the distance, was of great importance to Vinckboons. He experimented with this setting in a number of paintings, always varying the subject and the details of staffage, which he modified to suit both specific and general narratives, including the Landscape with Christ healing the servant of the Centurion of Capernaum (Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen), Landscape with a country wedding (Brunswick, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum) and Landscape with a country party (Antwerp, Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas). In this picture, Vinckboons draws on long-standing Flemish tradition to depict a ‘Return from the kermesse’, showing merry peasants crossing the bridge on their way home from the church service and festival of Saint George; the saint himself, in his guise as patron saint of archers, appears on the kermesse flag displayed on one of the buildings in the middle distance. The unusual motif of naked female bathers, disporting themselves in the shaded shallows just left of the central foreground, reflects a sophisticated knowledge of Italian art and subjects such as Diana and Actaeon, masquerading here as yet further observation of the pastimes and foibles of country life.
Vinckboons spent almost his entire life in Amsterdam, and five of his ten children would become artists of the Dutch Golden Age. His own style, however, is unmistakably Flemish, and he belongs to that extraordinary generation of Netherlandish artists who, compelled by religious persecution to move either north to the Protestant stronghold, or south to the Catholic one, effected one of the most significant cross-pollinations of style and taste in the history of art. His debt to Gillis van Coninxloo III, whom van Mander described as ‘the best landscape painter of his time’, is particularly strong in this panel. Coninxloo, a pupil of Pieter Coecke van Aelst and a close relative of the Brueghel family, may have been Vinckboons’s teacher, and may have helped familiarise the latter with the kermesse pictures by the Brueghels and Marten van Cleve. The uncannily fine detailing in the present work harks back to the miniaturism of earlier Flemish masters such as Herri met de Bles; on the other hand, the painterly evocation of the misty distance anticipates the slightly later works of Hercules Segers, whose importance to Dutch landscape painting has been widely discussed.