This previously unpublished painting of Apollo and the Muses, which has been in the same private collection since the mid-20th century, is among Jan Breughel the Younger and Hendrick van Balen’s most successful collaborations. The attribution to both painters was confirmed in 2004 following first-hand inspection by Dr. Klaus Ertz, who dated the painting to 1630, shortly before the death of van Balen in 1632. The plump figures of the muses recall Rubens’s voluptuous nudes and are consistent with van Balen’s late output from 1625 to 1632, while the vigorous brushstrokes of the landscape anticipate Breughel’s spirited execution of the mid-1630s.
Having worked extensively with Jan Breughel the Elder, van Balen began to collaborate with his son, Jan Breughel the Younger, in 1620, before the latter embarked on a trip to Italy in 1622. When Breughel’s Italian sojourn was cut short by the unexpected death of his father in the cholera epidemic of 1625, he returned to Antwerp to take over his father’s studio and resumed his partnership with van Balen, who had been an executor of his father’s estate. From 1626 onwards, Breughel’s journal lists numerous compositions that were jointly produced, and their fruitful collaboration only ended with van Balen’s death in 1632.
The picture may be compared on stylistic grounds to several other collaborative works by the two painters, namely Bacchus and Venus (Prague, National Gallery; K. Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Jüngere, Freren, 1984, pp. 380-1, no. 214) and Allegory of a Virtuous Life (Saint Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum; ibid., p. 394, no. 232), both of which have been dated to the late 1620s.