On a sandy road in the foreground villagers on horseback, foot and in carriages, pass a beggar’s family on their travel to the annual Kermesse, greeting each other along the way. The feasting crowd is gathered outside an inn under the furling banner of Saint George, where food is being prepared and a bagpiper makes music. Several festivities take place on a square in the distance; figures are dancing around the May pole ('meipaal’), fencing and strolling by stalls placed outside the church.
The subject matter is typical of sixteenth-century European art, scholarship and literature, and depicts late Medieval or Early Modern country life, with peasants and villagers celebrating the Feast Day of Saint George. In the early Dutch tradition, such celebrations were known by the term kermesse, derived from the words for ‘church mass’; each village would throw a particularly elaborate kermesse feast day of the patron saint of the village church, with dwellers of neighbouring villages coming over to join in the fun.
With its charming naïveté, the present kermesse is an excellent example of Abel Grimmer's art, adopting the successful landscape formula invented by his father and teacher Jacob Grimmer (c. 1525/6-1589/1609). Abel ran one of the most prosperous and acclaimed studios in Antwerp at the turn of the 17th century, producing hundreds of works, which often fetched prices to rival the paintings of Jan Breughel the Younger. He is principally known for his highly decorative landscapes, which evoke an earlier manner of landscape painting. His chief sources of inspiration were the works of his father, Jacob Grimmer, as well as Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Hans Bol, whose popular compositions he modified and revitalised. In his own compositions, the older artistic idiom is simplified and transformed by the introduction of broad blocks of colour, which animate his forms and express the vernacular architecture in terms of simple geometric shapes. Figural groups were then frequently added in thin layers of paint on top of completed landscapes.
Bertier de Sauvigny describes several kermesses by Abel Grimmer, of which a small, unsigned composition on panel, (19.7 x 26 cm.), appears close to the depiction of the present lot.