Jan Brueghel the Elder
(Antwerp 1568–1625)

River Landscape with Fish Sellers

oil on copper
stamped with the panel maker’s mark of Peter Staas (fl. 1587–1610) and the hand of the Antwerp Guild (reverse)
32.7 x 40.6 cm. (12.9 x 16 in.)
c. 1606

‘And thus, I seek to discuss Jan Brueghel (called Velvet Breughel) at the height that his art has reached, for he has given me so much material, that I deem the pen too weak to put the secret of his art of painting fully into verse.’

Cornelis de Bie, Gulden Cabinet van de Edel Vrij Schilderconst, 1662, 89. (liberal translation)

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Jan Brueghel the Elder, also known as ‘Velvet’ Brueghel due to his delicate brushwork, was the second son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525–1569). Because his father died when he was just one year old, Jan received his early training from his grandmother, Mayken Verhulst (d. 1600). At the age of 21, Jan travelled to Italy, where he met Paulus Bril (1554–1626), a painter from Antwerp who greatly influenced Jan’s brightly coloured and intricate paintings on copper.1 Unlike his elder brother Pieter the Younger, Jan did not seek to imitate his father’s work. Some of his early works do show reference to his father, but they were always characterised by his own delicate and miniaturist style.2 After his return to Antwerp in 1596, Jan set up his own workshop and was accepted into the Painter’s Guild of St Luke, of which he became dean in 1602. In 1606, Brueghel became a lifelong court painter to Archduke Albrecht and Archduchess Isabella, the Regents of the Southern Netherlands in Brussels.

This present landscape is a prime example of Jan’s ‘story-telling’ village and river landscapes, which he painted from 1605 onwards. These paintings were among his most influential and elaborative compositions and demonstrate Jan’s brilliantly intricate technique, tracing each form, from the figures to the minuscule leaves on the trees. It can be considered a technical and artistic masterpiece and typical of painting in Flanders at the beginning of the 17th century.3 Jan’s unrivalled mastery of landscapes meant that Rubens (1577–1640) often invoked his talents for collaborations, where Jan would provide the setting for Rubens’ grandiose figures.4 In 1618, Jan was part of a large collaborative project, when the city magistrates commissioned 12 major painters of Antwerp to present a sample of their best works to the regents. Instead of each delivering a separate painting, the artists Rubens, Frans Snyders (1579–1657) and others collaborated on one single project, the Allegory of the Five Senses, under the direction of Jan Brueghel.5

Jan was known to be remarkably versatile and prolific. Apart from his celebrated landscapes, he also painted highly successful flower still lifes, as well as mythological, allegorical and historical subjects and evocations of hell and paradise, the latter he painted no less than 106 times.6 He died of cholera in 1625, a disease that also took the lives of three of his children.7

Notes
1. National Gallery of Art, “Jan Brueghel the Elder,” based on the entry in Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 14. Accessed 03 March 2021, from https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.3626.html#biography.
2. Alexander Wied and Hans J. Van Miegroet, “Bruegel Family”, last modified 2003, accessed 03 March 2021, from https://www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000011669?rskey=GxX8RN&result=3#oao-9781884446054-e-7000011669-div1-7000011693.
3. Dr Klaus Ertz, in private correspondence, 2018.
4. National Gallery of Art, “Jan Brueghel the Elder.”
5. Mied and Van Miegroet, “Bruegel Family.”
6. National Gallery of Art, “Jan Brueghel the Elder.”
7. Mied and Van Miegroet, “Bruegel Family.”

Isidor Ostrer (1889–1975), Berkshire;
his deceased sale; Sotheby’s Parke Bernet, London, 10 December 1975, lot 63;
with Richard Green, London, 1975;
Private collection, Europe;
Anonymous sale; Lempertz, Cologne, 18 November 2017, lot 2030;
with Richard Green, London, 2018;
The Klesch Collection.

London, Richard Green, ‘Annual Exhibition of Old Masters’, 1976, pp.8–9, no. 2, ill. in colour.

Klaus Ertz, Jan Brueghel D.Ä. Die Gemaelde, Cologne, 1979, pp. 184, 581, no. 142.
Klaus Ertz and Christa Nitze-Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere Die Gemaelde, vol. I, Lingen, 2008, pp. 272–3, no. 122, ill. in colour.

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Hover to zoom to maximum level or click to enlarge

Jan Brueghel the Elder
(Antwerp 1568–1625)

River Landscape with Fish Sellers

oil on copper
stamped with the panel maker’s mark of Peter Staas (fl. 1587–1610) and the hand of the Antwerp Guild (reverse)
32.7 x 40.6 cm. (12.9 x 16 in.)
c. 1606

‘And thus, I seek to discuss Jan Brueghel (called Velvet Breughel) at the height that his art has reached, for he has given me so much material, that I deem the pen too weak to put the secret of his art of painting fully into verse.’

Cornelis de Bie, Gulden Cabinet van de Edel Vrij Schilderconst, 1662, 89. (liberal translation)

Artwork details