The Wedding Dance, described by Marlier as 'one of the most popular of all subjects in Flemish painting at the beginning of the seventeenth century', is one of a group by Brueghel representing different episodes during a wedding day, generally regarded as amongst the high points of the artist's oeuvre. The group's popularity can be understood through its combination of landscape and genre with Brueghel's familiar pathos-imbued depiction of bawdiness in seventeenth-century Flemish life. Like many of Pieter the Younger's works, these are part of a tradition largely established by his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, most notably in the famous Wedding Banquet in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
The present composition derives from a different, untraced, drawing or painting by Bruegel the Elder, known from an engraving by Pieter van der Heyden, published by Hieronymus Cock; a derivation from the same source is also known by Jan Breughel the Elder (Bordeaux, Musée des beaux-arts). The earliest known paintings of this subject by Pieter the Younger are those in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, and the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, both of which are signed and dated 1607. The present lot represents one of the last signed and dated versions of this composition, belonging to the artist's mature period; indeed there is only one later dated version, executed in 1626.
Pieter the Younger's works of this type can be divided into two groups: those painted in the same sense as Van der Heyden's engraving, and those in reverse. The present picture, together with the majority of autograph versions, belongs to the latter group, believed to derive directly from his father's lost work rather than from the engraving. It features more of a developed landscape and thins out the background crowds present in the engraving. An undated and unsigned version of this composition recently sold in these Rooms, 9 February 2012, lot 640 (£937,250).