Teniers’ brilliantly observed Déjeuner au jambon was painted in 1648, shortly after the artist had entered the service of Archduke Leopold William, Governor of the Southern Netherlands. It is executed on an impressively large copper plate, allowing for a high degree of finish, and is an excellent example of the tavern genre that Teniers developed during the 1630s, in which he quickly excelled. The painting has exceptional provenance, having been in some of the most important European collections of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, frequently being singled out by collectors and connoisseurs as a masterpiece by the artist. It was described by John Smith, in his Catalogue Raisonné, as ‘an example of the highest excellence in the several qualities for which the works of Teniers are so much esteemed’ (op. cit.). The painting showcases Teniers’ mastery of composition, his remarkable ability to capture a wide variety of characters and expressions in his figures, and his skill at rendering still life details. The artist was clearly pleased with the work, having included a self-portrait and the painting's execution date on the feigned print tacked to the wall in the centre as well as signing and dating the work at lower left.
Teniers’ early tavern scenes were strongly inspired by the pioneering example of his slightly older contemporary Adriaen Brouwer (1605-1638). Brouwer was working in Antwerp by 1631-2 and his rustic scenes of peasants and working-class figures engaged in riotous merry making, gambling and excess rapidly became popular and influential in the city. Initially, Teniers followed Brouwer’s example closely, using exaggerated caricatures, a limited palette and subdued light effects. However, by the late 1630s he had begun to adopt more naturalistic figure types, and to move away from the latter’s smoky, monochromatic tonality in favour of a clearer, more silvery atmosphere. By the mid-1640s, when this painting was executed, Teniers’ compositions were more sophisticated, his execution was more refined, and his patrons increasingly prestigious, most notable amongst them being Archduke Leopold William, to whom he became official court painter in 1650.
Teniers has cleverly divided the composition of this painting in two by employing an ‘L’ shape design to create a shallower space in the left foreground, where figures are gathered around the eponymous supper of ham, and a deeper space to the right, where figures can be seen dancing and merry making in the background. While Brouwer had painted tavern scenes with his figures similarly divided into groups between the foreground and the background, as in his Interior of a Tavern (London, Dulwich Picture Gallery), Teniers’ composition is more complex, incorporating many more figures, and the separation of the two spaces is more clearly defined. Furthermore, Teniers’ use of an ‘L’ shape design has enabled him to combine two distinct subjects - a peasant gathering and a scene of revelry and dancing. The former evolved from Brouwer and the latter inspired by the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Other works which combine these two subjects in this way include a panel, also dated 1648, now in the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe. In a slightly earlier panel, painted in 1645, these subjects are reversed, with the dancing figures brought into the foreground and the more subdued dinners pushed into the background (Munich, Alte Pinakothek).
As Teniers’ treatment of tavern scenes and rural, peasant life became more refined, he began to pay more attention to the still life elements in his work, as exemplified by the beautifully rendered collection of copper pans, terracotta vessels and utensils in the right foreground in this work. This seemingly random collection of ordinary objects is painted with such care and skill that it commands the viewer’s attention as a standalone still life. This attention to such details is evident in a number of Teniers’ paintings from the mid-to late-1640s, for instance his Kitchen Interior of 1644 in the Mauritshuis, The Hague (illustrated). The quality of the still life detail is heightened by Teniers’ use of a copper plate, which enabled the extremely refined level of finish. The use of copper panels had been popularised in Flanders by the artist’s father-in-law, Jan Breughel the Elder, following his return to Antwerp from Italy. Teniers used this support in around a quarter of his paintings.
Note on the Provenance:
The earliest record of this painting is its sale in 1765 from the collection of the Belgian nobleman, Prince Philippe François de Rubempré (1669-1742), when it was acquired, with a group of other pictures, by the Parisian engraver Pierre François Bazan (1723-1797). This group of works was taken by Bazan to Paris where they were auctioned in the same year. At the second 1765 sale, Teniers' Le déjeuner au jambon was acquired by the financier and collector, Pierre Paul Louis Randon de Boisset (1708-1776). Following the latter’s death in 1776, the painting was acquired by François-Antoine Robit (1752-1815), in whose collection it remained until his death, when it was offered for sale in his posthumous collection sale in 1801.
The picture was later acquired by Charles Ferdinand d’Artois, duc de Berry (1778-1820) (illustrated), the eldest son of the future Charles X of France. The duke, along with his wife, Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile (1798-1870) (illustrated), whom he had married in 1816, was one of the most avid collectors of Netherlandish art in Restoration France (D.A. Spieth, Revolutionary Paris and the Market for Netherlandish Art, Leiden and Boston, 2017, p. 91). His most fervent period of activity as a buyer occurred following his return to France from exile in Britain, in 1814, when he began to amass his impressive collections at the Elysée Palace in Paris (illustrated). The duke’s interest in Dutch and Flemish painting was not unusual during this period. Indeed, eighteenth-century French collectors had avidly sought to own such works of art and it appears that the duke’s focused collecting habits upon his return to France not only expressed his own personal taste for such pictures but also constituted something of a deliberate return to pre-Revolutionary tastes and collecting habits. At the height of his collecting, however, the duke was assassinated as he left the Paris opera house by the Bonapartist anti-monarchist Louis Pierre Louvel (1783-1820) on 13 February 1820. The duke’s collection passed to his wife, a passionate supporter of her husband’s position in the political world of Restoration France.
Following the forced abdication of her father-in-law, Charles X, in the July Revolution of 1830, Marie-Caroline actively worked to secure the French throne for her son, Henri d'Artois, Count of Chambord (1820-1883), declaring from her exiled home in Edinburgh that he was the rightful king and she his regent. The dowager duchess returned to France in April 1832, landing at Marseille and travelling to the Vendée and Brittany, where she led a brief uprising against Louis-Philippe, who had been crowned King of the French in 1830. Her followers, however, were quickly defeated and Marie-Caroline was imprisoned at the Château de Blaye. During her incarceration, she remarried conte Ettore Carlo Lucchesi Palli (1806-1864) losing her the sympathies of Bourbon Loyalists in France. In 1833, she was released from prison and settled with her husband in Sicily. The collections which had been amassed by Marie-Caroline and her first husband were offered for sale at Paris in April 1837. Held over three days, this sale gives some impression of the remarkable quality and quantity of paintings owned by the duc and duchesse de Berry. In addition to the present work, it comprised other highly important seventeenth century Netherlandish paintings, including Isaac van Ostade’s Travellers outside an inn (The Hague, Mauritshuis), Gerard ter Borch’s Curiosity (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art), Jacob van Ruisdael’s The Great Oak (Los Angeles, J.P. Getty Museum) and Nicolaes Berchem’s Southern Harbour Scene (London, Wallace Collection), as well as other works by Jan Steen, Jan van Huyum, Gabriël Metsu and Aelbert Cuyp. Teniers’ Déjeuner au jambon was described at length in the auction catalogue, which stated that at the time of its sale from the collection of M. Robit, ‘unanimous applause greeted the buyer of The Ham Dinner and [Jacques-Louis] David, great admirer of beauty in all forms, wanted to be the first to congratulate him for fixing in the capital [Paris] one of the worthy works of the author [Teniers], which amounts, he said, to the sublime in the perfect opposition of ancient statues’.
The picture was acquired from the de Berry sale by an equally distinguished collector, Anatole Demidoff (Anatoly Demidov), Prince of San Donato (1813-1870) (illustrated) who had, in 1828, inherited on the death of his father, Count Nikolai Nikitich Demidov (1773-1828), the majority of an impressive fortune, which had been made in the iron and munitions industries. His father had been a significant collector in his own right and had begun work on the construction of a large residence, the Villa San Donato, near Florence in 1827. Anatole continued work at the palace and the Palladian building later became the home of his collection, which filled fourteen rooms of the complex (illustrated). In 1840, Anatole Demidoff married Princess Mathilde Bonaparte (1820-1904), daughter of Napoleon’s brother and later a celebrated patron of writers in France, who herself already owned an impressive collection of paintings, including Jacopo Pontormo’s Halberdier (Los Angeles, J.P. Getty Museum). The couple separated after only six years of marriage. Demidoff’s tastes were wide-ranging, encompassing the decorative arts as well as paintings of every school and genre, he was even an active patron of contemporary French painting, notably of Paul Delaroche from whom he acquired the famous Execution of Lady Jane Grey in 1834 (London, National Gallery). The main portion of the Dutch and Flemish paintings in the Demidoff collection were purchased, along with Teniers’ Déjeuner au jambon, at the de Berry sale in 1837, but Demidoff continued to collect the work of other great Old Masters, including Titian, Ribera and Velazquez. His collection was eventually auctioned at major sales in Paris in 1868 and in 1870. Teniers’ Déjeuner au jambon, described as ‘a beautiful picture, celebrated with just reason for its qualities of the first order’, was included in the earlier of these two auctions, among a group of twenty-three of the Prince’s best Dutch and Flemish pictures. It was purchased for the substantial sum of 77,000 francs by the financer and railway magnate, baron Florentin-Achille Seillière (1813-1873).