In 1651 Teniers moved from Antwerp to Brussels to take up his position as court painter to the new Spanish governor, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm. Rural festivals and village kermesses had long been a favorite subject of the artist and they remained so, even as he took on the responsibilities of Keeper of the archduke's famous collection of paintings, and began planning the Theatrum Pictorium. For this, Teniers painted small-scale copies of each Italian picture belonging to Leopold Wilhelm. They were subsequently engraved to form a volume of 243 plates, which was among the first illustrated catalogues of its kind ever produced.
Teniers's interest in landscape and in the events making up the calendar of life in the country started in the latter part of the 1630s. He depicted peasants undertaking their mundane day-to-day tasks, but more often he showed them dancing and enjoying themselves with games. His first village wedding was painted in 1637 and displayed his ability to observe even the minutest details. The present work illustrates how he progressed, as his earlier more stylized figures were replaced by characters with individual traits. Although the spatial definition of these later landscapes seems informal, Teniers carefully selected and composed his rural scenes to simulate a depiction of everyday life which is, in fact, idealistic, even arcadian. Dr. Margaret Klinge notes that 'Teniers' Flemish landscapes are only naturalistic in appearance. In fact, they are composed of motifs which in the arcadian literary tradition represent the serenity of country life....a happy peasantry at one with the gentry under the radiant blue of a vast sky ... The rural life he presents is happy and carefree - an arcadian idyll' (M. Klinge, in the catalogue of the exhibition, David Teniers the Younger, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, 11 May-1 September 1991, pp. 20-22).
The soft and subtle tonality of the present work, suffused with light, is characteristic of his work from the 1660s. The demand for his pictures during this decade was great and his ability to produce varied paintings of village life seemed almost limitless. A similar signed work of nearly identical size (9¾ x 13¾ in.), in which two peasants dance to a bagpiper's tune, was sold at Christie's, New York, 18 June 1982, lot 95. Among other comparable works are a slightly larger merrymaking scene offered in these rooms on 9 April 1990, lot 26, and a large village kermesse (19½ x 38½ in.) dated by Dr. Klinge to circa 1665.