This beautifully preserved picture depicts one of the central motifs of Teniers' genre pictures, the smoker. The subject recurs in many of his finest works, the most famous of which being Le Bonnet rouge (1644; Wrotham Park, Byng Collection, Wrotham Park), from the central figure of which (a man lighting his pipe) the lady in the present picture is developed. Other examples of the subject include such works as Le Bonnet vert (1636/7; Madrid; Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection), from which the figure in Le Bonnet rouge itself derives, The Smoker (1645; St. Petersburg, Hermitage), the Interior with a smoker at a table (1643; Paris, Louvre) and the Boors carousing (1644; London, Wallace Collection).
The subject matter can be traced directly back to the influence of Adriaen Brouwer, who introduced the theme of tobacco smoking into the canon of Flemish art. The activity carried particular associations, but it also introduced the opportunity for a display of fresh permutations of facial expressions combined with the visual finesse of showing the smoke curling up from the pipe, or exhaled from the smoker. This was exploited by Brouwer most famously in his Smokers (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art) of 1635-6, on which Teniers based at least two versions incorporating the principal figure (Los Angeles, County Museum of Art; and Madrid, Prado). The present picture is a fine example of the manner in which in his mature works Teniers took Brouwer's motif and abandoned the slightly moralising tone of the latter's work, instead presenting peasant life in a sympathetic, benign manner that shows the enjoyment of harmless pursuits without criticism or judgement: a development that perhaps goes some way to explaining Teniers' enduring popularity amongst collectors.
The motif of the cap rested on the back of a chair is repeated in at least three other paintings by the artist, the Bonnet rouge and Bonnet vert mentioned above, and also Le Bonnet blanc (Germany, private collection; see J. Smith, Supplement to the catalogue raisonné, etc., IX, London, 1842, pp. 443-4, no. 115). That the painting was highly regarded in the past can be inferred from the fact that at least three old copies are recorded.