Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp)
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Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp)

The Flemish Proverbs

Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp)
The Flemish Proverbs
signed (?) 'P·BRUEGHEL-' (lower centre)
oil on copper, the reverse stamped with the coat-of-arms of the city of Antwerp and the panel-maker's mark of Pieter Staes
19¼ x 26 1/8 in. (49 x 66.2 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Nackers, Brussels, 10 December 1970, lot 750.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1981, lot 33, when acquired by the family of the present owners.
H. Mund, 'Contribution à l'étude de Pierre Breughel le Jeune: une version inconnue de ses ''proverbes flamands'' in Revue des archéologues et historiens d'art de Louvain, IX, 1976, p. 157, notes 4 and 10.
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564-1637/38), Lingen, I, 1988/2000, no. E8*, pp. 70-1, illustrated.
R. Duckwitz, catalogue of the exhibition Brueghel Enterprises, Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht and Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, 2002, pp. 59-79, fig 7.
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Sale room notice
Please note that the literature for this lot should read as stated below, and not as stated in the sale catalogue:

K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564-1637/38), Lingen, I, 2000, no. E8*, pp. 70-1, illustrated.
R. Duckwitz, 'The Devil is in the Detail: Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Netherlandish Proverbs and copies after it from the workshop of Pieter Brueghel the Younger', in P. van den Brink, ed., Brueghel Enterprises, Maastricht, 2002, pp. 61, 71 and 79 note 32.

We are grateful to Paul Mitchell Ltd. for the loan of this frame. For further information please contact a member of the department.

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Alexandra McMorrow
Alexandra McMorrow

Lot Essay

This painting derives from Pieter Bruegel the Elder's original, now in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin, which brings together around a hundred and thirty Flemish proverbs and sayings. Although many of the sayings had been collected in compendia since time immemorial, interest in them had reached a new peak in the sixteenth century, the best known of which was Erasmus's Adagia, first published in 1500 and reprinted throughout the sixteenth century.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's painting is dated 1559, five years before his son was born and almost 40 years before Pieter Brueghel the Younger's earliest surviving dated picture. Although the Berlin painting was still in Antwerp in 1668 when it was documented as part of the collection of Pieter Stevens, there is no evidence to suggest that it was still in Pieter the Elder's possession at the time of his death. Nor do any of the known sources tell us what happened to his workshop and all the paintings, drawings and designs it contained, making it difficult to ascertain exactly how the nature of the production process actually worked.

Klaus Ertz records nine autograph versions, of which two are dated 1607 (Stedelijk Museum, Wuyts-Van Campen en Baron Caroly) and 161[0?] (Sotheby's, New York, 30 January 1997, lot 86). Besides this painting, one other is also on copper (Sotheby's, London, July 10, 1974, lot 22). Although the copies frequently follow the original with astonishing precision, sometimes down to the smallest of details, none of them is identical to the prototype and there is an abundance of minor and more significant differences, omissions and additions. While there is no preparatory drawing of the Elder's painting, recent infrared reflectography of that panel, would indicate that the younger Brueghel's paintings are closer to the underdrawing of the original than to the finished painting. For instance the man in the pillory has his legs stretched out in all the versions, as he does in the original underdrawing of the Berlin Panel. Additionally he plays his fiddle in front of a cracked brick wall, also evident in the underdrawing of the original, but which Pieter Bruegel the Elder subsequently overpainted with a hedge. Similarly, one figure is missing from all the copies - a man kissing a ring on the tower door - and neither is he visible in the underdrawing.

What is evident from comparing the way the copies were produced in Pieter Brueghel the Younger's workshop is that they were based on a model other than his father's original painting. Most likely is that he used a drawing or cartoon by his father as a model, which must also have provided detailed colour instructions, since the colours in all the versions remain constant for those elements that determine the composition.

Whilst Ertz describes this painting as autograph and one of the few works on copper in the characteristic technique of Pieter II, he, like Hélène Mund, does not exclude the possible participation of Jan Breughel the Younger with regard to the figures. This would presuppose a dating unlikely to have been earlier than 1618, given that Jan Breughel the Younger was born in 1601. However, we are grateful to Dr. Jørgen Wadum for pointing out that the type of stamp and brand used corresponds with those that appear on the reverse of another coppoer panel dated 1610, a date which is therefore likely for this picture.

Key to The Flemish Proverbs

1) She bound the devil to a cushion (She's a real shrew)
2) He is a column biter (He's a false friend)
3) She carries fire in one hand and water in the other (She's hot and cold)
4) Here, it's the sow that opens the trap (Here, everything is going to the dogs)
5) He grills herring for the spawn (To sacrifice something of great value for something of lesser value - or - to be wasteful)
6) Here, his herring doesn't cook (He has no success)
7) He has a cake on his head (He's an unlucky fellow)
8) He sits (or falls) in the ashes between two chairs (To fall between two stools)
9) To find the dog in the larder (To hesitate is to lose)
10) At the sign of the scissors (Here, the client is fleeced)
11) To always gnaw at the same bone (To always focus on the same thing) 12) The chicken inspector (A ladies' man)
13) He puts the bell around the cats neck (He undertakes a dangerous enterprise)
14) To knock one's head against the wall
15) Are you a soldier or a peasant?
16) One shears sheep, the other shears pigs (One takes all the profit, the other none)
17) As patient as a sheep
18) The one weaves what the other spins (The one that carries out what the other plots)
19) The one loads the distaff with that which the other spins (One slanderer repeats the slurs she has heard from another)
20) He carries daylight in open baskets (He gives himself up to useless endeavours)
21) He lights a candle to the devil (He will flatter anyone to get what he wants)
22) He makes his confession to the devil (He confides in someone who is not worthy)
23) He who whispers in one's ear (Slanderer, gossip monger)
24) The Stork invited the Fox (The cheater is fooled)
25) The spit roast must be watered (You must take great care when you wish to succeed)
26) One must put the roast on the spit while the fire burns (To strike while the iron is hot)
27) You can't turn the spit roast with him (You can't reason with him) 28) Two dogs seldom agree over the same bone (Two people rarely agree over the same matter)
29) The pig is stuck in the belly (It's an irrevocable deed)
30) Strew roses before swine (Throw roses before swine)
31) She puts the blue coat on her husband's shoulders (She pulls the wool over his eyes)
32) It goes like pincers on a pig (It is incongruous)
33) To fill in the pit after the calf has drowned (To close the barn door after the horse has bolted)
34) One must crawl if one wants to make it through the world (One must be humble to succeed)
35) He makes the world spin on top of his thumb (A man of influence, who gets what he wants)
36) To hang a beard of flax (i.e. a false beard) on the Lord (To be a hypocrite)
37) Who will pull longest? (Each wants to prevail over the other)
38) To put spokes in the wheels (To provoke obstacles)
39) He who upset his porridge can not get it all back (It's no use crying over spilt milk)
40) He is looking for the hatchet (He's looking for pretexts)
41) He who searches, finds
42) He finds it difficult to grab two loaves at the same time (He's having trouble making ends meet)
43) He yawns against the oven - or - he must yawn for a long time, he who wishes to out-yawn an oven (He attempts the impossible)
44) He is sitting in his own light (He wrongs himself)
45) One searches not another in the oven if one hasn't been in there oneself
46) She takes the chicken egg and leaves the goose egg (Avarice trumps wisdom - or she makes an incomprehensible choice)
47) To fall through the basket (To not be able to prove what one says as true)
48) He hangs between heaven and earth
49) It's good to make one's belts from the leather of others (It's good when one can do good things with the funds of others)
50) He grabs the eel by the tail (He will certainly not succeed in his endeavour)
51) To swim against the current
52) To throw the habit in the nettles (To quit religious life)
53) A cracked wall is soon in ruins
54) To not be able to bear that the sun shines on the water (To be jealous of another's happiness)
55) He throws his money into the water (He throws his money out of the window)
56) They both shit through the same hole (They get on amazingly well)
57) Its like putting a lavatory above a pit (It's obvious)
58) Big fishes eat the little fishes (The strong dominate the weak)
59) He fishes behind the nets (He arrived too late)
60) He wipes his backside on the prison door (He mocks something)
61) He falls from the (back of the) bull onto the ass (From the frying pan into the fire)
62) He plays atop the pillory (He takes over something for an inappropriate use)
63) They are two fools in the same cap (They always agree)
64) They shave the fool's beard without any soap (To take advantage of the weaknesses of others)
65) He has toothache behind the ears (He is crafty)
66) He urinates at the moon (He attempts the impossible)
67) At the sign of the chamber pot There hangs the pot
68) It depends on the cards
69) To soil on the entire world (To have no respect for anything)
70) In the upside-down world (Here, everything is in reverse of normal) 71) Each one takes the other by the nose (Each one fools the other)
72) He looks through his fingers (He has his eyes closed)
73) To enter in one's clogs (To wait in vain)
74) To sport the broom (To feast in the absence of masters)
75) They're married beneath the broom (It's convenient to flirt under the same roof)
76) The rooftops are covered with tarts (Everything is found in abundance there)
77) To use up all your arrows To shoot your bolt (To use up your last chance)
78) To keep an egg in the nest (To keep a nest egg)
79) When the gates are open, the pigs run through the wheat (When the cat is away the mice will play)
80) He stretches out his coat the way the wind blows (He blows the way the wind does)
81) He winnows feathers in the breeze (He does something useless)
82) When the barrier is open, the pigs run in the wheat. Less wheat, but more ham.
83) He gets two flies in one swat (He kills two birds with one stone)
84) He sets fire to his house to warm himself in the blaze (It doesn't matter to him that his house burns, as long as he can warm himself in the fire)
85) A good soldier doesn't fear fire
86) There is no smoke without fire
87) She has fire in her behind
88) When the blind lead the blind, all fall into the ditch (The blind leading the blind)
89) Horse manure is not figs
90) He watches dancing bears (He's hungry)
91) For this reason and that, the geese go barefoot
92) Who knows why geese go barefoot? (There is a reason for everything) 93) He soils on the gallows (He mocks Justice)
94) To set sail with the devil (To get involved with the wrong crowd)
95) The journey is not yet finished when you see the church and its steeple (It's not as easy as it seems)

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