Old Master & British Paintings - London, December 2013

The Brueghel Dynasty

Beginning with Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the Brueghel family of artists is perhaps one of the most important dynasties in the history of art, dominating Flemish painting from the late Renaissance to the 17th century. In this sale we present works by two generations of this great family that demonstrate their enduring appeal for collectors today.

Pieter Breughel the Younger’s The Birdtrap is an exquisite example of a typical winter genre scene that the artist and his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, were renowned for. Though the son imitated the father often this work is undoubtedly the Younger’s as it is signed ‘P.BREUGHEL’. The artist adopted this spelling of his last name after 1616, over the previous ‘BRUEGHEL’ or ‘BRUEGEL’, differentiating father from son. A further work in the sale by Pieter Breughel the Younger, The Payment of the Tithes (The Country Lawyer), a popular composition at the time, is equally popular and unusual in that it is neither a direct copy of one of his father’s compositions nor an adaptation of a composition by one of his father’s contemporaries – such as Martin van Cleve – or close followers.

His younger brother, Jan Brueghel the Elder (known as ‘Velvet Brueghel’), rarely imitated their father’s compositions and developed his own distinctive style. By 1600 he had become the foremost painter of landscapes in Northern Europe, frequently collaborating with fellow Antwerp artist, Sir Peter Paul Rubens.

In The Temptation of Saint Anthony Jan Brueghel the Elder presents a hellish vision of fantastical figures in a nocturnal landscape. In its breadth of imagination and invention the painting refers to Hieronymous Bosch’s earlier treatment of the subject which popularised the hermit saint’s story. These nightmarish scenes were referred to as hellekens or hell scenes in contemporary records and though Jan painted just a few of these particular scenes he became famous for them.

The Brueghel dynasty continues throughout the auction with a work by Jan Brueghel the Elder’s son, Jan Brueghel the Younger, entitled Latona turning the Lycians into Frogs. Set in a detailed wooded landscape it depicts the myth of Latona, mother of Apollo and Diana, as recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The execution is very similar to that of the painter’s father and previous versions have been attributed to Jan Brueghel the Elder.