Adriaen van Ostade specialised in painting dimly lit rooms, often belonging to an inn, peopled by ‘low-life’ characters, their features and poses grotesquely caricatured. In some, battered furniture and broken crockery suggest the bar-room brawls that van Ostade also sometimes portrayed.
The room in this picture is drab, but while the fireplace is empty and the lighting dingy, the relationship between the small foreground group seems companionable. Behind them, another group enjoys the music of the hurdy-gurdy man.
Van Ostade may have been a student of Frans Hals, together with Adriaen Brouwer, a young Flemish painter, though their work shows little of Hals’s influence. Rather, they both developed a similar style, delighting in robust – and in some cases, raunchy – scenes of peasant life.
Adriaen van Ostade specialised in painting dimly lit rooms, often belonging to an inn, peopled with ‘low-life’ characters, their features and poses grotesquely caricatured. The rooms usually have an air of poverty, with bare and smoke-stained walls. In some, battered furniture and broken crockery suggest the brawls that van Ostade also sometimes portrayed.
The room in this picture is drab, and the fallen broom and the litter suggest it’s none too clean, but the characters in the foreground are more kindly treated. Although the fireplace is empty and the lighting dingy, the small group is quite homely and the relationship between them seems companionable. The woman hands the man in the low chair a glass of beer with a smile and, behind them, the man on the bench toasts them with a toothless grin, holding up his open tankard and his clay pipe.
The dim light from the glazed window makes soft shadows; these, and the dark earth colours, give the room warmth and intimacy. Van Ostade has made the hurdy-gurdy player of the title difficult to see, so we are more aware of the couple on the bench against the wall. Their faces are barely lit but their enjoyment of the music can still be seen. The musician leans forward, broad-brimmed hat over his eyes, giving us a bird’s-eye-view of his hook nose and his grin, and of the cumbersome instrument under his arm. On the wall behind them is a print, a river scene unframed and tattered – but still an effort to cheer up the room.
Van Ostade may have been a student of Frans Hals, together with the young Flemish painter Adriaen Brouwer, though their work shows little of Hals’s influence. Rather, they went in their own direction, with Brouwer, the older of the two, perhaps helping to form van Ostade’s style. They both delighted in robust – and sometimes raunchy – scenes of peasant life (see Brouwer’s Tavern Scene or van Ostade’s A Peasant Courting an Elderly Woman). These genre paintings were popular in seventeenth-century Holland, sometimes serving as a moral lesson in manners and lifestyle to middle-class families, but more often seen as a comical addition to liven up a more serious collection.
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