The subject of the return from the kermesse was depicted as early as 1550 by Pieter Aertsen (Brussels) and remained popular well into the seventeenth century, providing artists with the kind of comic material that made peasant scenes a staple in both the northern and southern Netherlands. On the road leading out of the village music is still being played and couples continue to dance while others, such as the man slumped against the tree at the lower right and the woman relieving herself nearby, are beginning to feel the effects of too much revelry.
This was one of Pieter the Younger's most popular subjects. At least thirty-six versions of this theme are known, all associated with studio production (Ertz, op. cit.). While it does not relate directly to any of Pieter the Elder's extant paintings, it maintains the spirit of his works with its use of jolly peasant types and motifs such as the dancing couples. Every village had several fairs throughout the year. They were seen as occasions for the peasantry to subvert societal rules -- a release of violent energy that was thought to stave off political unrest -- and city dwellers were known to travel to the countryside in order to attend. As with the celebrations themselves, images of them were meant to be funny. As stated by van Mander, there are few of Bruegel's works that the observer 'can contemplate seriously and without laughing, and however straightfaced and stately he may be, he has at least to twitch his mouth or smile' (see W. Gibson, Pieter Bruegel and the Art of Laughter, Los Angeles: UCLA, 2006, p. 1).
Pieter the Younger spent his life producing copies and versions of his father's paintings, which were in great demand throughout Europe almost immediately upon the artist's death in 1569. While so-called 'Bruegelmania' peaked at around 1600, Pieter the Elder's paintings and prints continued to have a dramatic impact on Netherlandish art throughout the seventeenth century. Pieter the Younger produced multiple copies of at least half of his father's known works, providing paintings for a thriving market and playing a key role in the dissemination of his father's influence.