Pieter Brueghel, the Younger 
(Brussels c. 1564-1638 Antwerp)
PROPERTY OF THE 7TH EARL OF HAREWOOD'S WILL TRUST, SOLD BY ORDER OF THE TRUSTEES
Pieter Brueghel, the Younger (Brussels c. 1564-1638 Antwerp)

The Bird Trap

Details
Pieter Brueghel, the Younger
(Brussels c. 1564-1638 Antwerp)
The Bird Trap
signed '.P·BREVGHEL' (lower right)
oil on panel, stamped on the reverse with clover leaf panel-maker's mark of Michiel Claessens (active Antwerp 1590-1637)
14 7/8 x 22 ¼ in. (37.7 x 56.5 cm.)
Provenance
Anonymous sale [Felix Gade, Edinburgh]; Christie's, London, 8 July 1910, lot 76, as 'P. Brueghel' (70 gns. to Charles Davis).
Henry George Charles Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood (1882-1947), and by descent at Harewood House to the present owner.

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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair

Lot Essay

The Bird Trap remains one of the most familiar and popular subjects in the Brueghel corpus. Though more than 127 versions of the composition are known from the family’s studio and followers, only forty-five of these are now believed to be autograph works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, with the remainder largely being the output of his workshop, painted with varying degrees of quality (see K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jungere 1564-1637/38, Lingen, 1988/2000, II, pp. 605-30, nos. E682-A805a). This picture was not known to Dr. Ertz when he was working on his catalogue raisonné, however, it has now been examined by him in person and is acknowledged as an autograph work of ‘the very highest quality’ dating to after 1616. This painting is especially significant as an addition to a small group of Bird Trap compositions to include the Flight into Egypt, a detail that appears in only five other known versions by Brueghel (ibid., nos. E685, E687, E691, E692 and E704). This detail appears to have been entirely the invention of Pieter Brueghel the Younger. This group also includes the additional motif of a man leading a mule or donkey across a bridge in the distance.
The composition is derived, as is so often the case with Brueghel the Younger’s oeuvre, from a prototype by his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique). Though scholars have debated the Brussels picture’s authenticity, recent technical investigation has confirmed that it was indeed painted by Bruegel the Elder (S. Pénot, in Bruegel: The Master, S. Haag, ed., exhibition catalogue, Vienna, 2018, p. 212). The work is named after the rudimentary bird trap constructed at the lower right of the composition: consisting of an old door, the trap is operated by a string tied to a wooden support which can be quickly pulled away by an unseen figure in the cottage to the right once the birds have been lured beneath it by the scattered grain.
Various interpretations of the subject have been proposed. The work can be understood in the first instance as a simple landscape painting. Indeed, in the catalogue accompanying the 1963 Le Siècle de Bruegel exhibition in Brussels, Georges Marlier suggested that the distant village in Bruegel the Elder’s painting in Brussels, and consequently that in his son’s own treatments of the scene, was identifiable as Pede-Ste-Anne in Brabant (Le Siècle de Bruegel: La peinture en Belgique au XVIe siècle, exhibition catalogue, Brussels, 1963, p. 69). This town had served as the location for some of the Elder’s other works, including The Blind leading the Blind, painted in 1568 (Naples, Museo di Capodimonte), which features the town's Sint-Annakerk.
Brueghel’s Bird Trap has also been commonly associated with moralising concepts. Both Marlier (Pierre Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels, 1969, p. 240) and Glück (Das grosse Bruegel-Werk, Munich and Vienna, 1951, p. 75) associated the threat posed to the birds with that posed to the carefree skaters: as the birds gather unaware of the imminent danger of being caught in the trap, so the villagers gather on the frozen water, heedless of the risk the ice poses. Depictions of ice were often associated with impermanence. When Bruegel the Elder’s Ice skating before the Gate of St George Antwerp was engraved by Frans Huys (1522-1562) for example, it was accompanied in later editions by an inscription which warned ‘Oh learn from this scene how we pass through the world, / Slithering as we go, one foolish, the other wise, on the impermanence, far brittler than ice’ (N.M. Orenstein, Pieter Brueghel the Elder: Drawings and Prints, exhibition catalogue, Rotterdam, 2001, p. 176).
This lot is sold with a copy of a certificate by Dr. Klaus Ertz, dated March 2019, confirming the attribution after first hand inspection.

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