This is one of a group of paintings, of similar format and on large copper panels, that Jan Breughel II painted in the latter part of his career, all datable to circa 1650 and depicting elements from the story of the Creation; a similar series, from the same period, depict elements from the story of Adam. The present picture actually represents the whole of the first four days from the story as related in Genesis, I: 1-19, the Creation of Day and Night, the waters under the firmament, dry land, the earth, grass and trees, the sun and the moon, and the stars.
Both sets of compositions appear to have developed out of the Paradise landscape theme that runs through the oeuvres of both Jan II and his father, Jan Breughel I. More than one of each type is known - the present composition, for example, is repeated in the painting sold in these Rooms, 10 December 2003, lot 3, one of a group of three (£117,250); the other two in that group representing the fifth day (the Creation of Fishes and Fowl) and the sixth day (the Creation of the Beasts of the Earth and Man).
Stylistically, all of these Genesis pictures display the influence on Jan and his collaborators of the broader artistic developments that had occurred since the death of his father in 1625. The influence of the latter, although still clearly evident, is mixed with a broader style that combines elements of the baroque in the greater exploration of drama and movement (understandable given Breughel's collaboration with Rubens), as well as some wider influence in the staffage: it is interesting that at least one of the Adam cycle derives from an engraving after Bloemaert. Given that Jan II is so often regarded as a pure copyist of his father's works, these later pictures show his ability to develop and mature beyond that starting point, reflective of his close working contact with his Antwerp contemporaries.
The painting is sold with a copy of the certificate by Dr. Klaus Ertz, dated 4 April 1990, confirming the attribution to Jan Breughel II and dating the picture to circa 1650.