In a shabby interior four peasants chat, enjoy a smoke and a drink. They have just finished their meal. The leftovers are scattered across the room as silent witnesses.
According to Arnold Houbraken, Diepraam was a pupil of the glass painter Willem Jansz Stoop, most probably in Utrecht, and then studied with Hendrick Sorgh in his native Rotterdam. Most scholars doubt Houbraken’s statement that Diepraam concluded his training in Antwerp with Adriaen Brouwer after having travelled through France; Diepraam was only sixteen when the great Flemish genre painter died in 1638. It is clear, however, that Brouwer’s art was Diepraam’s principal source of inspiration. In 1648 he registered with the painters’ guild in Dordrecht but the artist must also have spent time in Rotterdam, where he died in or shortly after 1677.
Both his biographers, Houbraken and Jacob Campo Weyerman, portray Diepraam as a self-confident artist. Their colourful anecdotes about the artist’s bad temper and his alcohol addiction have a topical ring. That Diepraam’s lively peasant paintings sold well, as both authors stress, need not be doubted however. Weyerman even relates that art dealers eagerly bought them to sell them on to clients in Paris.
Diepraam’s preserved output is quite small, amounting to only a few dozens of paintings with dates ranging from 1649 to 1677. The present scene certainly ranks among his best works and it can be compared with the one in the Rijksmuseum, which features a similar scene in an almost identical setting (fig. 1). Houbraken had seen works such as these that were “so beautifully painted and so witty in invention they might have been done by Brouwer”. The present work reveals Diepraam’s marvellous command in capturing the facial expressions of his characters, his love for detail and a sophisticated use of colour which is marked by subtle olive-brown and salmon hues and sparingly applied accents of red and blue.
The fact that this painting once formed part of a royal collection in South Germany, and was later owned by Dr Eduard Plietzsch, the well-known connoisseur, art historian and author of a classical handbook: Holländische und flämische Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts, published in 1960, stresses its importance within Diepraam's oeuvre.
This painting is datable to the end of the 1650s or beginning of the 1660s on the basis of the type of hat – a so-called sugarloaf hat - sitting in the floor in the lower right corner which was only in fashion during this short period. It is therefore slightly earlier than the work in the Rijksmuseum, which is dated 1665.
A copy, on panel with almost identical dimensions, after the present lot was offered with Sotheby's, New York, 23 November 1997, lot 45, as Circle of Jan Miense Molenaer.