Jacob Duck was trained as a portrait painter in Utrecht, but already before he became a master in the guild of that town by 1630-2, he is recorded as a painter of genre pieces. Together with Pieter Codde and Willem Duyster, he is the foremost representative of the so-called guardroom genre (Cortegaerdjes) in Dutch painting in the 17th Century. These are depictions of merry companies of civic guards with extravagantly dressed women, whose interactions are apparently full of underlying symbolic meaning and sexual connotations.
According to Nanette Salomon (op. cit., p. 54) the present guardroom scene was painted around 1636. It contains many of Duck's formal and iconographic characteristics. Typical for the artist is the limited range of colours varying from ochre to olive-green and from light-brown to silver-grey. In his work, the architecture in the background often functions like a stage-set. Salomon also points out that the raking light streaming in from the upper left corner is a device the painter must have taken over from his Utrecht compatriots, the Caravaggisti.
The two distinctive groups of figures in the composition seem to relate over a game of cards. The booty that they are ready to gamble away, including expensive looking vessels, jewellery and coins, is depicted beside them. Paintings like the present lot were sometimes called a 'soldatie kroeg' (soldiers pub) in old Dutch inventories.