Margaret Klinge dates this fine cabinet picture to the artist’s Antwerp period. With its wealth of naturalistically observed still-life details and satirical narrative, it is typical of the genre pieces that established Teniers’ reputation as one of the city’s most successful and pace-setting artists. His works were highly prized by Antwerp’s art dealers, resulting in the spread of his fame beyond the city. By 1647, he was working for Archduke Leopold William, Governor of the Southern Netherlands, and in 1651 he became the Archduke’s court painter, subsequently moving to the court at Brussels. His paintings were also esteemed by nobility outside the Netherlands, notably Queen Christina of Sweden and King Philip IV of Spain, and by the nineteenth century examples of his works could be found in many private collections throughout Europe.
Teniers has captured the crucial moment when an old philanderer is caught by his wife attempting to seduce a young maid while she goes about her daily chores. Attention is immediately drawn to the immoral act by the young maid’s striking red and blue costume, which stands out in Teniers’ otherwise muted palette of browns and ochres. The composition is cleverly composed with the narrative details divided by a barn wall, which acts like the wing of a stage set. This moralising subject was popular in Teniers’ oeuvre and almost precisely the same two figures feature in a painting of 1643 (Basel, Kunstmuseum), set in a different interior, with the philanderer’s wife appearing through a stable door to the right. The other focus of this composition is the beautifully observed still life
arrangement in the foreground, showing earthenware vessels, barrels and an upturned wooden bucket, a hallmark of Teniers’ finest pictures. Teniers executed drawings of such still life groupings in preparation for his paintings, for example a drawing in the Hamburger Kunsthalle