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Jan Steen, A Man blowing Smoke at a Drunken Woman

Key facts
Full title A Man blowing Smoke at a Drunken Woman, Another Man with a Wine-pot
Artist Jan Steen
Artist dates 1626 - 1679
Date made about 1660-5
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 30.2 × 24.8 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Salting Bequest, 1910
Inventory number NG2555
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Man blowing Smoke at a Drunken Woman
Jan Steen

A young woman, her blouse and jacket falling open rather immodestly, has drifted to sleep in her chair. In one hand is an empty wine glass, in the other a clay pipe. One man blows a stream of smoke towards her ear while a second looks on laughing. This seems like a tavern scene, but in the background are the curtains of a bed – it’s more likely we are in a brothel, where the sleeping woman works.

To modern viewers this sort of leering mockery might not make a very attractive scene. But in seventeenth-century Holland, when both alcohol and tobacco were considered dangerous intoxicants and a potential risk to a woman’s sexual virtue, it would have been a source of justified derision. Or, in this case, an example of a joke which seems a little sour today, but would have been perfectly acceptable 350 years ago.

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