David Teniers painted this large copper panel in Brussels, where he served as Court Painter, chamberlain, and custodian of the art collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, Governor of the Netherlands. Teniers' depiction of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden harkens back to the paradise landscapes that were popularized a generation earlier by the artist's father-in-law, Jan Breughel the Elder (1568-1625), who developed this distinctive genre while similarly working as Court Painter to the Archdukes in Brussels. Like so many of Breughel's landscapes of this type, the subject of the present work is derived from the Old Testament, which describes how a male and female of every animal species on Earth was present in the Garden of Eden, where they were named by Adam and lived together in absolute harmony. The painting captures the moment preceding the cataclysm that was to bring this idyllic existence to an end, as evidenced by the vignette portrayed at center-right. Guided by the serpent, Eve offers the forbidden fruit to Adam, who, by eating it, will gain knowledge of good and evil and thus precipitate their fall from Paradise. At this point, however, the couple is still blissfully ignorant of shame; Eve makes no attempt to cover her flesh, whose luminous pallor--then perceived as a mark of femininity--offers a striking contrast to Adam's ruddy complexion.
Following his father-in-law's paintings, Teniers relegates this dramatic event to the background of the composition. Indeed, at first glance, the main subject seems to be the delightful presentation of scores of animals of varying degrees of nobility, rendered in beautiful colors with an apparent scientific fidelity to nature. Teniers would have easily found sources for representing some of the more exotic creatures, including camels, parrots, peacocks and lions, in the paintings of Breughel and other older artists like Rubens, while the more common fauna such as the ducks, rabbits and sheep, may have been drawn from life. The motif of the nearly bare tree hosting monkeys and birds of paradise at left is yet another quotation from Jan Breughel, and serves as a visual counterbalance to the verdant foliage seen in the right background. Perhaps the most intriguing animals in Teniers' painting are the small white dogs in the foreground, who rest at the riverbank and one of whom barks at a nearby duck. They appear to be Bichons, and one wonders if they might be portraits of pets owned by this panel's patron.
In the 18th century, this painting belonged to the French textile manufacturer, amateur engraver and collector, Jean de Jullienne. As a young man he studied drawing with Jean-François de Troy, engraving with Boucher and Audran, and was a friend of François Lemoyne and Antoine Watteau, whose Portrait of a Gentleman (Louvre, Paris) was said to be of Jullienne. His vast collection comprised 500 drawings by Watteau, as well his Mezzetin (Metropolitan Museum, New York), 13 paintings by Rembrandt, 250 Rembrandt and 203 Dürer prints, as well as other works that he had purchased from the sales of Crozat, Antoine de la Roque, Jeanne-Baptiste d'Albert de Luynes and the Comtesse de Verrue, among others.
When this painting was with Emmanuel Moatti, Margret Klinge confirmed the attribution to David Teniers II.