recto © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

In a career that lasted just over a decade, Isaac van Ostade—the younger brother and likely pupil of Adriaen van Ostade—developed a distinct style marked by both a masterful incorporation of landscape into scenes of peasant life and a predilection for humorous representation of the lower classes. Here, the artist treats the subject, an inebriated woman vomiting, with a moralizing sense of comedy. The theme relates to overindulgence and its negative consequences, cautioning the viewer to avoid the antagonism and shame suffered by the protagonist. The artist repeated this suite of figures on a smaller scale in the foreground of one of his painted landscapes, altering the poses and colors and setting them off against a more muted backdrop. He also omitted the spewing vomit central to the drawing—leaving more ambiguous the source of the woman’s ridicule.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
2008.256
People
Isaac van Ostade, Dutch (Haarlem, Netherlands 1621 - 1649 Haarlem, Netherlands)
Title
Drunk Peasant Couple; verso: Sketch of a Farmhouse
Classification
Drawings
Work Type
drawing
Date
c. 1639-41
Culture
Dutch
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Brown ink, brown wash, red, blue, and yellow chalk wash with graphite on cream antique laid paper; remnants of a brown-ink framing line at upper, left, and lower edges; verso: brown ink and gray wash
Dimensions
15.3 x 21.5 cm (6 x 8 7/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • collector's mark: lower right, black ink, stamp: L. 2330b (Anton Schmid)
  • inscription: verso, lower left, graphite: 1818
  • collector's mark: verso, lower left, brown ink stamp: L. 805b (Gottfried Eissler)
  • watermark: none
Provenance
[Amsler and Ruthardt, Berlin, 25-27 May 1908, lot 376, repr. pl. 2]. Dr. Gottfried Eissler, Vienna (L. 805b, verso, lower left). Anton Schmid, Vienna (L. 2330b, lower right). [Galerie Arnoldi-Livie, Munich], sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1989 (L. 3306, without their mark); The Maida and George Abrams Collection, 2008.256.
Published Text
Catalogue
Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums
Authors
William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson
Publisher
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016)

Catalogue entry no. 64 by Susan Anderson:

Little is known about the brief life and career of Isaac van Ostade, the younger brother and, according to Houbraken, the student of Haarlem’s master of the peasant genre, Adriaen van Ostade (see 1999.123.10, 2009.206 ).1 Although his career lasted just over a decade, Isaac developed a distinct style marked by a masterful incorporation of landscape into scenes of peasant life and a predilection for humorous representation of the lower classes.

Dated by Bernhard Schnackenburg to circa 1639–41, this drawing of children mocking a drunken woman represents the period immediately after Isaac’s apprenticeship, but before his first known activity as a professional painter, as recorded in the archives of Haarlem’s Guild of Saint Luke in 1643.2 Unlike in his earlier drawings, with their uniform use of the pen, diffuse compositions, and gruff peasant types, here he combines a more refined technique and a greater flair for theatricality to focus maximum attention on the hapless woman. The central characters appear in large scale, and the man in particular strikes an exaggerated pose, enhanced by a comical costume and facial expression. Descriptive detail diminishes toward the background, with abbreviated expressions on the broadly gesturing children and only a preliminary graphite sketch of foliage as a backdrop. The characteristically applied chalk washes attest to Isaac’s interest in color during this period, as he followed the lead of his brother, Adriaen, who had added watercolor to his drawings from the outset of his career.3

Isaac treated the subject, an inebriated woman vomiting, with a moralizing sense of comedy. As William Robinson has pointed out, the theme relates to overindulgence and its negative consequences, thereby cautioning the viewer to avoid the antagonism and shame suffered by Isaac’s protagonist.4 The artist repeated this suite of figures in the foreground of one of his expansive painted landscapes, which last appeared in the New York trade (Fig. 1).5 In the painting, Isaac included the sharp shadows cast by the figures’ feet and expanded the dramatic light across the entire group, setting them off against a more muted landscape backdrop. He also altered the poses and costume colors of the figures slightly, especially in the central pair, to make the man’s jacket blue instead of red and the woman’s cape a drab brown instead of blue. Most importantly, Isaac omitted the spewing vomit central to the drawing—leaving more ambiguous the source of the woman’s ridicule. A drawn copy of Harvard’s sheet appeared in the Munich trade in 1941.6

The drawing on the verso of this sheet is one of a small handful of Isaac’s rare early landscape studies.7 The tufty leaves and the schematic, rapidly drawn peasant house are typical of these sheets, as is the use of brown ink and wash. Isaac later refined this approach in subsequent masterful drawings of unpopulated exterior and interior scenes that show a more controlled use of the pen, greater level of detail, and frequent use of watercolor.8 His early compositional studies and landscapes, as embodied in the recto and verso of Harvard’s sheet, helped Isaac cultivate the mature paintings of exterior genre scenes for which he is best known.

Notes

1 Arnold Houbraken, De groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen (first ed. 1718–21; reprint Amsterdam, 1943), vol. 1, p. 273; Irene van Thiel-Stroman in Pieter Biesboer and Neeltje Köhler, eds., Painting in Haarlem 1500–1850: The Collection of the Frans Hals Museum (Ghent, 2006), pp. 261–62.

2 Van Ostade’s earliest dated painting (whose dating itself would generally indicate independence from apprenticeship) is from 1639. On 31 January 1643, the rolls in the archives of Haarlem’s Guild of Saint Luke record a dispute between Isaac and a Rotterdam dealer, Leendert Hendricks. The two had entered into a contract more than two years prior (presumably in 1641) that had gone sour, and they ultimately turned to the guild for resolution. Although the date of Isaac’s formal entry into the guild remains unknown, his appearance here indicates he was a member by 1643. See Hessel Miedema, De Archiefbescheiden van het St. Lukasgilde te Haarlem, 1497–1798 (Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands, 1980), vol. 2, pp. 582–583 and 609; and Van Thiel-Stroman in Biesboer and Köhler, pp. 261–62.

3 Bernhard Schnackenburg, Adriaen van Ostade, Isack van Ostade: Zeichnungen und Aquarelle (Hamburg, 1981), vol. 1, pp. 33 and 49.

4 William Robinson in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet; Vienna: Albertina; New York: Pierpont Morgan Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 1991), cat. 88, p. 194. A painting of the 1670s by Jan Steen depicts a drunken woman stumbling toward a pigpen, as in the Dutch proverb “Wie een varken is, moet in het kot” (One who behaves like a pig belongs in the sty). See also Lyckle de Vries, Jan Steen: De Schilderende Uilenspiegel (Weert, Netherlands, 1976), p. 17 and pl. 56.

5 Isaac van Ostade, Drunken Peasant Couple (Fig. 1), oil on panel, 34.2 × 47.6 cm, sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 26 January 2007, lot 437, repr. The painting was sold as “attributed to Isaac van Ostade,” but with a catalogue note citing Bernhard Schnackenburg’s opinion, based on photographs, that it was in fact an early work by Isaac himself. Before then, the work was known by a black-and-white photograph in the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie/Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD), which recorded its presence with the Paris dealer J. O. Leegenhoek in 1950. In his 1981 monograph, in citing the 1950 image, Schnackenburg referred to the painting as attributed to Isaac (“eines Isack van Ostade zugeschriebenen Gemäldes”); see Schnackenburg, vol. 1, under cat. 421, p. 161. William Robinson, who saw the painting at the 2007 sale, also believes the painting to have a genuine signature and to be by Isaac himself. Based on the photograph, the present author concurs.

6 Copy after Isaac van Ostade, Drunken Couple, 194 × 275 mm, ink and wash, sold at Weinmüller, Munich, 20–21 May 1941, lot 675, repr. pl. 44.

7 For the early sketches of peasant cottages, see Schnackenburg, cats. 416 verso, 419 verso (both in London, British Museum), 423 (Groningen, Groninger Museum voor Stad en Lande), and 424 recto (Amsterdam, private collection); see also Peter Schatborn, “Tekeningen van Adriaen en Isack van Ostade,” Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 34 (1986): 82–92, pp. 85–86, fig. 12 (verso of fig. 11, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum).

8 For his unpopulated exteriors and interiors of circa 1646–49, see Schnackenburg, cats. 565–80.

Figures
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
The Maida and George Abrams Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Accession Year
2008
Object Number
2008.256
Division
European and American Art
Contact
am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu
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Publication History

Bernhard Schnackenburg, Adriaen van Ostade, Isack van Ostade: Zeichnungen und Aquarelle (Hamburg, Germany, 1981), Vol. 1, cat. no. 421, p. 161, and pp. 49, 52, 53, and 57, repr. vol. 2, pl. 175 (recto) and 177 (verso)

70 Nordeuropäische meisterzeichnungen 1500-1920, auct. cat., Galerie Arnoldi-Livie (Munich, Germany, 1990), cat. no. 20, pp. 40-41, repr. (recto)

William W. Robinson, Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., H. O. Zimman, Inc. (Lynn, MA, 1991), cat. no. 88, pp. 194-5, repr.

Marian Bisanz-Prakken, Drawings from the Albertina: Landscape in the Age of Rembrandt, exh. cat., Art Services International (Alexandria, Virginia, 1995), under cat. nos. 49-50, p. 106 (n. 6)

James Harper, Verso: The Flip Side of Master Drawings, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2001), cat. no. 15, pp. 43-44, repr. (recto and verso)

Important Old Master Paintings and European Works of Art, auct. cat., Sotheby's, New York (New York, January 26, 2007), under lot 437

William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), cat. no. 64, pp. 219-221, repr. p. 220 (recto and verso)

Exhibition History

Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, Rijksprentenkabinet, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 02/23/1991 - 04/18/1991; Albertina Gallery, Vienna, 05/16/1991 - 06/30/1991; Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 01/22/1992 - 04/22/1992; Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 10/10/1992 - 12/06/1992

Verso: The Flip Side of Master Drawings, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/19/2001 - 08/12/2001

Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2016 - 08/14/2016

Subjects and Contexts

Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu