JAN STEEN (LEIDEN 1625/6-1679)
JAN STEEN (LEIDEN 1625/6-1679)
Jan Steen (Leiden 1625/6-1679)
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JAN STEEN (LEIDEN 1625/6-1679)

A village fair with a pamphleteer

JAN STEEN (LEIDEN 1625/6-1679)
A village fair with a pamphleteer
signed 'JSteen' ('JS' linked, lower center)
oil on panel, oval
23 ¼ x 29 3/8 in. (59.1 x 74.6 cm.)
Sir Thomas Beauchamp-Proctor, 2nd Bt. (1756-1827), Langley Hall, Norfolk, by 1815, and by descent to
Sir Ivor Proctor Beauchamp, 8th Bt. (1900-1971), Langley Hall, Norfolk, after 1966.
Private collection, England.
with Otto Naumann, New York, where acquired by the present owner in 1988.
Descriptive catalogue of the pictures and pieces of sculpture at Langley Hall, Norfolk the seat of Sir William Beauchamp-Proctor, Bart., unpublished manuscript, 1815, as Adriaen van Ostade.
J.P. Neale, Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, III, London, 1820, as ‘Village Politicians—Ostade’ and hanging on the East Side of the Scroll Room.
J. Chambers, A General History of the County of Norfolk, Norfolk, 1829, II, p. 846, as ‘A Fair—Janstein’.
P.C. Sutton, The Martin and Kathleen Feldstein Collection, privately published, 2020, pp. 90-93, no. 24, illustrated.
Norwich, Castle Museum, Dutch Paintings from East Anglia, 20 July-19 August 1966, no. 43.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Prized Possessions: European Paintings from Private Collections of Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 17 June-16 August 1992, no. 141.

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Lot Essay

Known for his ribald sense of humor and narrative genius, Jan Steen was arguably the most gifted and original Leiden genre painter of his generation. Early in his career, Steen made a specialty of landscapes with fairs, kermises and village festivals whose cast of characters spanned the gamut of contemporary Dutch society. Several of these paintings, including The May Queen of circa 1648-51 (fig. 1; Philadelphia Museum of Art), utilize an upright oval panel, though the present painting is the only known horizontal one in Steen’s oeuvre. It probably dates to slightly later than the example in Philadelphia on account of its more sophisticated composition, which can be compared with paintings like Steen’s dated Village Wedding of 1653 (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam). Moreover, its crisp atmospheric effects and selective lighting find close parallels with works like Steen’s depiction of boers playing beugelen before an inn, likewise datable to the first half of the 1650s (sold Christie’s, London, 6 July 2017, lot 4).
Though no records regarding Steen’s artistic training exist, it is generally believed that he studied with the Haarlem genre painter Adriaen van Ostade in the late 1640s. Steen’s idyllic vision of rural life and his use of a receding diagonal in this painting both appear to be indebted to the elder master’s work. The landscapes of Jan van Goyen, whose daughter, Marije, Steen married in The Hague on 13 October 1649 proved equally influential on the younger artist’s luminous, billowy clouds and his stippled application of the leaves against the sky.
This well-preserved painting is a brilliant demonstration of Steen’s sharp eye for common folk reveling on the outskirts of a village. A motley crowd of figures gathers around a female pamphleteer reading aloud from a makeshift podium. Further back, her male compatriot – whose hunched back may well signify his crooked disposition – sells copies of the broadside. Below them, a stalky, shabbily-dressed man with a white beard peddles glasses to the assembled crowd. His attention is momentarily fixed on a well-dressed young couple whose flamboyantly cut and vibrantly colored clothing marks their elevated social status. A young boy, perhaps the couple’s son, stands behind them appraising a group of three similarly aged youths who fight one another in the painting’s central foreground. Along the painting’s left edge, a poor family stands passively waiting for a pancake woman to finish cooking her treats. Another mother and child are seen departing the stand, the young girl eagerly munching her pastry.
Images of women reading would have been a relatively common site for Steen and his contemporaries. Dutch women, and particularly those resident in the urban centers of the province of Holland, enjoyed comparatively high literacy rates. In Amsterdam in 1630 at least two out of every three men and one out of every three women appear to have had at least some ability to read and write (see P.C. Sutton, ‘Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer’, in Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer, exhibition catalogue, 2003, Greenwich, CT, and Dublin, p. 27).

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