In this ongoing series for Fine Art Today, we take a longer look at the history and features of a soon-to-be-available artwork of note. This week: Pieter Brueghel the Younger, “Return from the Kermesse.”

The holidays were indeed happy if we are to take Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s (1564-1637) popular “Return from the Kermesse” as an accurate representation. As Sotheby’s correctly suggests, “Its beautiful state of preservation allows us to fully appreciate the superb draughtsmanship, understanding of gesture, color, composition, and storytelling that have ensured for Brueghel a lasting reputation.”

A Dutch term derived from “kerk” (church) and “mis” (mass), Kermesse was a fantastic time of celebration that commemorated the anniversary of the foundation of a church and in honor of its patron. It was a popular composition among 16th-century patrons, and Brueghel the Younger’s genius surfaces with incredible color and life in this soon-available lot from Sotheby’s London.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, “Return from the Kermesse,” oil on oak panel, 19 5/8 x 31 1/8 in. (c) Sotheby’s, London 2016
Pieter Brueghel the Younger, “Return from the Kermesse,” oil on oak panel, 19 5/8 x 31 1/8 in. (c) Sotheby’s, London 2016

It is a lively scene that greets the viewer. Having just left mass, a procession of villagers dance and walk about in celebration just outside of town. In the foreground, along a muddy road, we find a number of entertaining subjects. A couple is seen having a romantic encounter inside of a horse-drawn carriage. A man who’s had his fair share of beer has found a tree to rest under as a bagpipe player walks by.

“Beyond this cast of principal protagonists,” Sotheby’s continues, “the artist has depicted a village scene still bustling with life, the kermesse seemingly still in full swing: a group of ten figures link hands and dance merrily in circles; two men are on the point of a sword fight as one is withheld by a woman desperately imploring them to desist, herself perhaps the cause of the fracas; beyond them the more sedate activities of organized hockey and archery keep others out of trouble and in the central distance a group of parishioners are filing into or out of church. Brueghel has placed a tree trunk to the right of the revellers to divide the composition into two and in this smaller section we see a far quieter scene, a nearly empty avenue beside a canal populated by just a few couples stumbling home and a cripple begging alms from two women. It is a scene in fact in which one can find any number of narratives and which gives us a clear idea of the spirit of such occasions in early seventeenth-century Flanders.”

Brueghel’s “Return from the Kermesse” headlines Sotheby’s December 7 Old Masters Evening Sale and is expected to command a robust price — though perhaps not as high as previous years. It sold in 2011 for $4.56 million, and auction estimates are now between $2.44 and $3.67 million.

To learn more, visit Sotheby’s.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster
Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.

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