Quickly and loosely executed with virtuoso brushstrokes, this small composition is to be considered a masterpiece by the Haarlem genre painter Egbert van Heemskerck the Elder. The artist developed his themes of raucous parties of smoking, drinking and dancing peasants in village surroundings from two of the foremost genre painters of seventeenth-century Holland, Adriaen van Ostade and Adriaen Brouwer. Especially close to the oeuvre of the latter, here, Van Heemskerck succeeded remarkably in psychologizing the different states of joy and drunkenness of mankind. The profound level of naturalism in this picture is striking: In a state of delirium, the heavily seated man to the right is staring out of the scene, inviting the spectator to participate this crude party and the drunk speech of him and the peasants next to him is almost to be heard. The extraordinary quality of this painting is indicative of the heights that Van Heemskerck’s art achieved in his maturity.
The Elder’s pictures are often confused with the work of his son, Egbert van Heemskerck II (c. 1676-1704 England), who became a painter in England after his father had moved to London in the early 1670s. Fred Meijer of the RKD, The Hague, to whom we are grateful, has kindly confirmed the attribution of the present painting to Egbert van Heemskerck the Elder upon inspection of a photograph.