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Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/38 Antwerp)
Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/38 Antwerp)

The Payment of Tithes

Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/38 Antwerp)
The Payment of Tithes
signed 'P.BREVGHEL.' (lower left)
oil on panel
28 7/8 x 47¼ in. (73.2 x 120 cm.)
Collection Willems, Brussels, from whom acquired in 1972 by the present owners.

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Lot Essay

This composition is unusual in Pieter II's oeuvre in that it is neither a direct copy of one of his father's compositions nor an adaptation of a Bruegel-like composition by one of his father's contemporaries, such as Martin van Cleve. Indeed the Payment of Tithes is noticeably different from Pieter I's compositional, figural and facial types, and its derivation has therefore been the subject of much discussion. Georges Marlier did not discuss it in his monograph on the artist, and it was his posthumous editor, Jacqueline Folie, who first tackled the question in print in the catalogue of the 1993 Bonnefanten Museum exhibition Pieter Brueghel de Jonge.

Folie proposed on the basis of visual clues that the lost prototype was French. One obvious clue was the fact that the calendar on the wall is written in French, although she conceded that the implication of this was undermined by the fact that French was at the time the language of the legal profession in the Netherlands; in addition, however, she noted that the peasants' short beards and close-cropped hair, as well as their costumes, were of a type not seen at the time in the Southern Netherlands (see O. Rogeau, 'Tu vas parler, Brueghel!', Le Vif. L'Express, 14 June 2002, pp. 32-33). Folie's proposal was supported by Ingeborg Krueger (... nimbt Gelt, Buter, Hüner, Endten ...' Zu Darstellungen des Bauernadvocaten von Pieter Brueghel d.J. und anderen', Das Rheinische Landesmuseum Bonn, Berichte aus der Arbeit des Museums, 3, 1995, 3, pp. 78-85), whilst Klaus Ertz, in his 2000 catalogue raisonné of Brueghel's work, hypothesized that the original might be a lost painting by the French artist Nicolas Baullery (1560-1630).

The various versions of Brueghel's Payment of Tithes paintings can be divided into two main groups, regardless of size: those with plaited straw ropes on the back wall and under the central window, and those with a dark cloth there instead; the present painting is of the latter type. An analysis of the two categories shows that, amongst dated versions, the compositional variant with plaited straw and the man on the far left with a grey/blue sleeve appears only in works dated 1615-1617; conversely those with a dark cloth and a man with a red sleeve appear from 1618-1626, with only two exceptions. One might therefore hypothesize that Brueghel decided for some reason to change his composition and color scheme around 1618. The type of the signature (P. BREVGHEL rather than P. BRVEGHEL) in the present painting suggests that it dates from in or after 1616 (see K. Ertz, catalogue of the exhibition Breughel-Brueghel. Pieter Breughel le Jeune (1564-1637/8) - Jan Brueghel l'Ancien (1568-1625), Lingen, 1998, p. 19); combined with the compositional evidence, one can therefore suggest a date for the painting of 1616-1626.

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