CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

Collecting the Brueghel Dynasty: Burgeoning Excitement Surrounds Pieter Brueghel the Younger

2 minute read

A palpable excitement is building around Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Celebrated as a faithful copyist of his father’s most popular compositions and a remarkable painter is his own right, collectors are scrambling to acquire works by the rediscovered master.

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"The Payment of Tithe" by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Oil on panel, c. 1616

The Life of the Artist

Born in Brussels in 1564/5, Pieter Brueghel the Younger was the eldest son of the famous Netherlandish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He is sometimes called Pieter Brueghel II or “Hell Brueghel,” a nickname attached to the artist because of the ghoulish, gruesome scenes once thought to have been painted by him (they have since been reattributed to his younger brother Jan Brueghel the Elder). Left fatherless at the age of 5 and orphaned by his teenage years, Pieter Brueghel the Younger most likely received early artistic training from his maternal grandmother, a talented watercolorist and painter of miniatures. In 1585/6,  Brueghel the Younger was made a free master in the Guild of St. Luke in Antwerp, a promotion that allowed the artist to run his own workshop. It is from this workshop that he supplied both the local and export markets with paintings of popular genre scenes, most often completed in oil on panel.

The Payment of Tithe

The artistic career of  Brueghel the Younger may easily be divided into two periods: until approximately 1614, the artist almost exclusively reproduced his father’s best works, while from 1615 onward, he painted his own original compositions. One such original work is The Payment of Tithe (also known as The Country Lawyer). The piece depicts a crowded, cluttered interior as seen from the high, tilted perspective typical of both Pieter Brueghel the Younger and his father. In the scene, uncomfortable Flemish peasants cower as they bring forward meager gifts to the taxman (or lawyer) seated at the table. The “enthroned” authority, a caricature of King Charles V of Spain, shows visible disdain.

The Payment of Tithe by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

One of 21 known signed copies, this work is one of the largest and best.

When comparing the c.1616 The Payment of Tithe illustrated here with others of the same composition, including those housed in world-renowned museums, it becomes clear that this particular version far surpasses every other. With its precise detail, large scale, and luminous colors, it is almost certain that this painting was a special commission from a very wealthy client—one who insisted on having the absolute best of the best. It comes as no surprise that Klaus Ertz, the world’s foremost Brueghel the Younger scholar, writes in the painting’s letter of authenticity, “It is one of the best versions of this subject matter by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, which he painted after 1616 in Antwerp.”

Burgeoning Excitement 

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Signed "P Breughel" (lower left)

Because Pieter Bruegel the Elder died at the age of 45, it is highly unlikely that one of his oil on panel paintings will ever become available on the open market again. In fact, a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder was discovered approximately 10 years ago, and it was immediately whisked into the permanent collection of the Prado in Madrid. Therefore, art collectors are now acquiring the second generation of the “Brueghel dynasty,” Pieter Brueghel the Younger. In fact, no less than four works by the artist will be available at auction this very week, and auction powerhouse Christie’s has chosen to spotlight Pieter Brueghel the Younger ahead of their Old Masters Evening Sale.

Painted by the Old Master Pieter Brueghel the Younger, world-renowned for his mastery of oil paint, use of vibrant color, and satirical depictions of contemporary Netherlandish life, The Payment of Tithe would be an ideal addition to any fine art collection.

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