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The Le Nain Brothers, 'Four Figures at a Table', about 1643

Key facts
Full title Four Figures at a Table
Artist The Le Nain Brothers
Artist dates Antoine (about 1600 - 48), Louis (about 1603 - 48), Mathieu (about 1607 - 77)
Date made about 1643
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 44.8 × 55 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by F. Hindley Smith, 1924
Inventory number NG3879
Location Room 31
Collection Main Collection
Four Figures at a Table
The Le Nain Brothers

In this sombre scene a peasant woman, a young girl and two children sit round a table in a dreary room. The older girl and woman look straight at us, their furrowed brows, pursed lips and tense gazes creating a feeling of melancholy or despair. The boy concentrates on cutting bread, smiling contently, his hat tipped playfully to one side. In the background a young girl emerges through the gloom – her appearance ghostlike, her hands clasped together, her stare direct and unsettling. The family are impoverished but remain dignified: their clothes are simple, but not shabby and torn.

The three Le Nain brothers – Antoine, Louis and Mathieu – painted many scenes of everyday life experienced by the peasant classes in rural France. The large number of copies of pictures like this one suggests that there was a substantial market for them in Paris, where the brothers lived and worked, at a moment when similar Dutch and Flemish genre scenes were very popular.

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