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Jacob van Velsen, A Musical Party

Key facts
Full title A Musical Party
Artist Jacob van Velsen
Artist dates about 1597 - 1656
Date made 1631
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 40 × 55.8 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Salting Bequest, 1910
Inventory number NG2575
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Musical Party
Jacob van Velsen

Paintings of Merry Companies (a group of people playing music together or otherwise entertaining themselves in a domestic setting) were very popular in Holland in the early 1630s. This is a particularly distinctive example: a shaft of bright sunlight gives the composition a clear structure and brings sharpness and life to the details depicted. The artist has also restricted himself to just two key colours – luminous yellows and vibrant pinks – which glow and shimmer against the cool, shadowy greys of the background.

But while the composition has been carefully structured and coloured, the meaning of the painting is much less clear. It seems a straightforward evocation of a happy company enjoying making music. But it is possible that, while clearly celebrating the pleasures of life, van Velsen also intended to present a subtle warning that alcohol, smoking and sexual temptation all had the power to undermine domestic harmony.

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