This charming scene, showing a group of rowdy peasants en route to a wedding celebration, exemplifies the lighthearted and often humorous observations of everyday life for which Pieter Brueghel II was - and remains - renowned. Even in its small size, this vignette reveals a wealth of anecdotal detail: seven peasants have crowded into the rickety carriage, pressed together so that one at the front has to wrap his arms around his knees to fit inside, while the two nearest the viewer seem poised to fall backwards over the edge. At center, a particularly boisterous woman raises a wine jug high in the air, perhaps to keep it away from her obviously eager companion, who may have already had too much. Stumbling around the back of the cart, a man in a red cap with his back to the viewer rearranges the bridal gifts, aided by another fellow who moves a three-legged stool - a common motif in Brueghel's paintings - out of the way. The cart, which might more usually have been drawn by a driver in an enclosed cab, is pulled by two sturdy horses that seem just to have felt the sting of their rider's whip.
Although Brueghel had a large workshop, Klaus Ertz, the leading expert on the artist, has praised the present panel "unequivocally" ("zweifelsfrei") as the work of the master himself (loc. cit.). Ertz, noting in particular the way the background scenery is painted, dates Peasants in an open wagon to the 1620s. He has also pointed out that the group of figures represented here, seen from another angle, recurs in a composition which Brueghel II repeated more than once, known as The Great Festival with a Theater Performance. The present work, however, remains the only known stand-alone version of this composition by the artist, a rarity in an oeuvre in which many compositions are repeated. It is likely that this picture was originally conceived as part of a set of panels similar in size and shape (see K. Ertz, op. cit., nos. 1112, 1113, 1114, 1117 and 1118), three of which are in the Henry H. Weldon collection, New York (see E. Haverkamp-Begemann and N.T. Minty, In the Eye of the Beholder: Northern Baroque Paintings from the Collection of Henry H. Weldon, exh. cat., New Orleans Museum of Art, 1997, nos. 7-9). The group may have been designed to decorate a piece of furniture, perhaps created as a wedding gift itself.