The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931. Public Domain CC0 1.0

The Smokers

Adriaen Brouwer, ca. 1636
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In the 1620s, Adriaen Brouwer was a successful specialist in small genre scenes, with peasants or with inns populated by tipsy revelers who smoke, drink, play and argue. At first sight, this work also seems to be a traditional genre scene: we see a messy inn with a company of five men. Contemporary sources, however, leave no doubt that it is a portrait. Brouwer has painted himself with four colleagues. From left to right we see Jan Lievens, Adriaen Brouwer, Joos van Craesbeeck, Jan Cossiers, and Jan Davidsz de Heem. What is special here is that Brouwer has painted a not-so-flattering, possibly realistic picture of his social network. In this way, Brouwer broke with the traditional portrait code of earlier friendship portraits, such as Peter Paul Rubens’ more subdued self-portrait with friends from Mantua (ca. 1604). With this daring invention, Brouwer remains much closer to his own tavern scenes than to contemporary portraits, which makes it a perfect example of his ingenuity.

Anita Jansen, Curator of Old Master Paintings, Museum Prinsenhof, Delft

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