Along with Adriaen Brouwer, David Teniers II was the most famous 17th century genre painter in the Southern Netherlands, and this large-scale Village Inn with peasants dancing and making merry to the music of a fiddler is one of the most impressive works by Teniers to appear on the market in recent years, and has hitherto remained apparently unknown. Such scenes of peasant merry-making were a quintessential part of Flemish painting, with its roots in the art of Pieter Bruegel I, through to that of his sons, Jan Breughel, and Pieter Brueghel II. Indeed, David Teniers, who became a master in the Antwerp guild in 1632/3, was very much a part of this artistic dynasty through his marriage to Anna Breughel, the daughter of Jan Breughel, in 1637, following which he moved into his father-in-law's house on the Lange Niewstraat in Antwerp. By the 1640s he was prospering, and rented (and later bought) a manor house near that of Rubens', and by 1651 he was appointed Court painter to the Archduke Leopold William, Governor of the Netherlands.
It cannot be a coincidence that the year of his first marriage, 1637, was also the same year that Teniers executed his first-known picture of a village festivity, the Peasant wedding in the Prado, Madrid. In terms of composition, there are many parallels that can be drawn between the Prado picture and the present canvas; a musician stands on a barrel before an inn, with peasants dancing and merry-making below him, with a landscape view beyond. This basic structure would be used in varying formats for many of Teniers' ensuing depictions of village festivities, including, among others, the Kermesse before the Half-Moon Inn, of 1641 (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie); the Kermesse, of 1648 (Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle); the Kermesse, of 1649 (Buckingham Palace, The Royal Collection) and the Great Village Festival, of the late 1670s (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie). What is quite different however between the early Prado picture and the present picture is the utter shift in focus and priority, from a coarser, more provocative view of the countryside, to one that is tamer and more bucolic, reflecting the changing views of Teniers himself as he became more established, and, more generally, the growing sense of peace and prosperity brought about by the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648.
In the boisterous 1637 Prado picture, there is a Brouwer-like satirical undercurrent that emphasises peasant-like excess and lewdness: a couple peers from the bedroom window, a drunkard gropes a village girl who pushes him away, one man, legs wide apart, bawls at the viewer, a glass and pipe in each hand, whilst another, vomits against a fence. In the present picture, dated to Teniers' mature period, the colours brighten, the sky becomes bluer, and the mood becomes significantly more refined and the feel is one of contentment and harmony. The bagpiper, with his protruding, bulging bag-pipe (and its inevitable erotic connotations), has here been replaced by a youthful fiddler with a jaunty-feathered cap; a young child in a clean white apron stands holding her mother's hand in the far left corner, whilst the often repeated motif of the bearded elderly man appears leaning heavily upon a stick surveying the scene, his skittish dog bounding towards the festivities. The innkeeper, who makes an appearance in so many of Teniers' compositions, appears to have grown plumper, and the couples embrace with a noticeable degree of decorum (although the upturned pitcher in front of seated couple in the foreground is a gentle contemporary innuendo, especially in contrast to the fragile glass held carefully by the girl just behind). The central couple dance with exuberance, whilst doves nest and coo in the rooftops overlooking an extensive fecund landscape, with a church steeple beyound.