This picture came to light in the early 1990s, when it was discovered in a private collection in Liege. It was subsequently published by Professor Marcel Roethlisberger (loc.cit.), who noted that the painting is unique in the oeuvre of the artist; not only is it his only known surviving depiction of a fire (another was sold by J. Woerman, Utrecht, 5 March 1810, lot 8; see G. Roethlisberger and M.J. Bok, Abraham Bloemaert and his Sons: Paintings and Prints, Doornspijk, 1993, under no. 255), it is apparently also his only pure landscape, as the figures seem not to refer to any historical or Biblical subject.
The picture is distinctive for its chromatic intensity and transparent handling of paint, which leaves the grain of the oak panel visible. Particularly striking is the yellow colour of the flames, encircled by the equally sophisticated light green of the grasses and brown tones of the beams and the foreground. The same yellow was used in the drapery of such pictures as the Preaching of Saint John the Baptist in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (ibid., no. 53) and the picture of Joseph and his Brothers in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht (ibid., no. 54). The intensity of the yellow further imbues the picture with its Mannerist character.
As a possible date of execution of the painting, Roethlisberger gives the broad suggestion of the second decade of the seventeenth century, immediately following the series of farmhouse and landscape prints of 1613-14 ( ibid., nos. 230-49, figs. 349-68). These connect with the Landscape with the Prodigal Son in Leamington Spa ( ibid., no. 224) and the Expulsion of Hagar, in an American private collection (ibid., no. 225), both datable to circa 1615. In these latter pictures the rendition of the brick walls is similar to that in the present painting.
The subject of a building in flames is known in two prints: the first is part of the small landscape series by Frederick Bloemaert (ibid., no. 255); the other depicts the Element of Fire in the series by Cornelis Bloemaert (ibid., no. 293). In contrast to the latter print, Roethlisberger argues that in the present picture there is no emblematic purpose to the subject. He sees it as inspired rather by the thoughtful mood that pervades most of Bloemaerts landscapes. Thus the picture auspices meditation on the disasters that may befall man.