Little is known of Dirck Hals’ early education, but he likely studied with his elder brother, Frans. He may also have worked under Willem Buytewech, who was active in Haarlem in the 1610s and was an early pioneer of the ‘merry company’, the subject matter for which Dirck is most known today. As here, Dirck often reused figural groups and motifs in his paintings. Each of these figures, with the exception of the cavalier at right, appears in Hals’ Fête Champêtre of 1627 (fig. 1; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), as does the cooler at lower right, with its glass bottles of red and white wine. In order to create a distinct composition, the artist has simply altered the colors of a number of the merrymakers’ clothing.
A slightly larger variant of this painting, with four additional figures and dated 1628, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. As Britta Nehlsen-Marten has noted, Hals paid uncharacteristic attention to the place-settings and tableware in the present painting, whose compressed, ‘shoebox’ arrangement allows for maximum emphasis on the revellers (loc. cit.).
In the first half of the twentieth century, this painting was owned by Lucius O’Callaghan (1877-1954), a prominent Dublin architect who served as the Director of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1923-27. Throughout his life, O’Callaghan amassed an impressive collection of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings, including works by Jan van Goyen, Govert Flinck and Pieter Claesz.