The Feast of Saint Nicholas has survived to the present day in Holland, Belgium and Germany as the most popular children's feast next to Christmas. Though originally a Roman Catholic feast, it was later generally accepted as a feast for all faiths, still celebrated on 5 or 6 December.
This unusually large and spectacular watercolour by Dusart illustrates a number of traditional elements that still play a role in the feast: apart from special presents such as the kolf stick and the horse on wheels, the children have been given various kinds of gingerbread and other sweets. They are seated at the chimney where they have sung to the Saint, who goes from roof to roof, hearing them sing. The sock hanging from the chimney is filled with carrots, intended for the Saint's horse, as well as a rod, which would be used to threaten naughty children.
The small stoup for lustral water next to the stairway indicates that the family is Catholic: Calvinists would not have celebrated this Feast in the 17th Century.
Dusart's signed painting of the same subject and composition, with very slight differences, dated 1685, was formerly in the Tobias Christ Collection, Basel. The artist treated this popular subject again in a drawing of horizontal format in an anonymous collection (photograph at the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague).
Jan Steen's picture of this subject of circa 1665-8 is one of the most celebrated Dutch pictures of the time, H.P. Chapman, W.T. Kloek and A. Wheelock, Jan Steen, Schilder en Verteller, exhib. cat., Amsterdam Washington Zwolle, 1996, no. 30, also illustrating the popularity of the Feast in the 17th Century.
Dr. Hans-Ulrich Beck, who has kindly supplied details regarding the provenance of this drawing, points out that there was a collector and dealer named Charles d'Ephrussi, who lived in Vienna and later Paris, where he published his Albert Dürer et ses Dessins in 1882.