VAN HERP, After Willem (1614-1677)
A Flemish Entertainment. From the Original Picture, Painted by Van Harp, In the Collection of the Right Honourable the Earl of Bute
London: John Boydell, 1 December 1764. Copper engraving, coloured by hand, by William Walker, from Richard Earlom's design after van Herp. Sheet size: 19 1/4 x 25 1/4 inches.
A very fine genre picture, expertly interpreted by Earlom and Walker. The artist of the original work is probably Willem van Herp (not Harp as in the title): the most likely candidate from amongst a prolific family of 17th-century Flemish painters.
A riotous scene, full of movement, set in an anteroom in a Flemish tavern. In the foreground a cat and dog pause momentarily during their ongoing battle. Guests are seated around a table set with bread and ham. A small boy reaches for the ham. The men, all somewhat the worse for drink, sit or stand around. One man relieves himself in the background, whilst two of his companions try and sweet-talk two of the serving maids, both of whom resist, one tries to keep her paramour at arms length whilst still maintaining her grip on a dish of fresh radishes, but a third seated figure reaches up and pulls her towards him by her apron.
It has been observed that the tobacco 17th century Dutch and English men (and for that matter that the Native Americans) smoked was considerably more narcotic than that available today, and here, four of the much less than sober men are smoking. In any event, this is an excellent example of the obstensibly moralistic illustrations that the Dutch painted but which were ultimately celebrations of inebriation, particularly in Frans Hals' and Jan Steen's work. These pictorial celebrations resonated with the English of course, with their venerable traditions of heavy beer drinking and smoke filled taverns.