63 x 80 cm framed
This painting was hitherto only known from an old photograph, with the provenance of H. Engel and London art market of 1939. It has since been in a single private collection.
Composition and style are typical of Bloemaert’s mature art of the 1630s. The layout is strictly symmetrical, both as regards the figures in the center and the framing landscape elements. Given the comparatively small size of the painting, the forms are few and large and impose themselves forcefully - a triangular figure group, two farm houses, a massive tree.
The sky is typically grey, the colouring of the figures subdued, the sleeping girl clad in red and white, the man in mauve pants with a grey jacket. The other girl with a basket is pointing to the two farm houses below which one discovers, somewhat to one’s surprise, the Prodigal Son on his knees, praying, with pigs, nearly hidden in the shade.
The sleeping peasant appears identically in a print by Bloemaert from the Leisure series of the 1620s (figs. 448 and 452 in the book cited below); by his side is likewise a sleeping girl, different from the painting. The Latin subtitles of the print series (slightly diluted in the second edition with French titles) contain moderately moralizing messages. In general terms, otiosity is not throughout declared a vice but may also be a well-deserved compensation for hard work. In this painting however, the addition of the Prodigal Son fallen into utter poverty leaves no doubt about the meaning of the figures: idleness leads to poverty. The theme of the Prodigal Son was in fact a favorite one of Bloemaert, in whose oeuvre it recurs in no fewer than six paintings, two engravings and several drawings.
The same sleeping man already appears in a painting of 1630 in Berlin (fig. 665), in which the group of sleeping figures is set off against the distant Tobias with the angel.
Bibliography: Marcel Roethlisberger, Abraham Bloemaert and his Sons, Davaco 1993, vol. I, p. 310, catl 481, vol. II, fig. 663 (as 1630-35; the signature and date had not been read at the time).
Prof. Marcel Roethlisberger
Herbert Terry-.Engel, London Art Market 1939
European Aristocratic Family,
Thence by descent
The Bloemaert Effect: Colour and composition in the Golden Age, Exhibition at the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 11 November 2011 until 5 February 2012, and Staatliches Museum, Schwerin, Germany, 24 February till 28 May 2012.
Roethlisberger, Marcel, Abraham Bloemaert and his Sons, ill.663 Cat 481 page 310.
The Bloemaert Effect: Colour and composition in the Golden Age exh. cat., Petersberg, 2011, pp. 180-181.