The uncouth youth in this painting confronts us with a recognizable, yet thoroughly unexpected gesture. Packed with an energy that far exceeds its scale, Adriaen Brouwer's unidealized depiction of this young Flemish peasant is an excellent example of seventeenth-century realism. Yet, as evident in the youth's aggressive behavior, this slice-of-life image also offers a visual critique of rural behavior and mores.
The mocking gesture of Brouwer's youth is one that could well be found in a seventeenth-century tavern, but its tradition reaches back to depictions of Christ appearing before Pilate that drew upon the Scriptures: "...the men that held Jesus mocked him, and smote him" (Luke 22:63). In Brouwer's painting, the offensive and shocking gesture of this peasant is directed at the viewer. The unkempt hair, the stubble under his chin, and the knife stuck through his fur hat elicit a surprised, if not horrified, response. Additionally, Brouwer's vigorous handling of paint, with his characteristically short, unmodulated brushstrokes, heightens this small painting's dramatic impact.
Adriaen Brouwer's keen observation and biting wit suggest that he sought to create a "vulgar painter" persona. Numerous anecdotes also indicate that he led a colorful and dissolute existence. According to one account, Brouwer was frequently excluded from family celebrations because of his untidy appearance. Anticipating a certain wedding, he bought a fashionable costume that earned him an invitation. In the midst of the festivities, he took two pies and smeared them all over his fancy clothes. Brouwer then announced to the astonished guests that since it was the suit, rather than the man wearing it, that had been invited, it deserved to feast on the food.
With Youth Making a Face, Brouwer created an image that exposes human folly and forces the viewer, regardless of status, to confront a threatening and mocking world. Brouwer does not pretend to help us with this world; he only warns us of its existence and the fact that its disquieting face can appear at unexpected times. The mocking gesture also reminds us, whether through our laughter or outrage, that we recognize with embarrassing familiarity the all-too-human nature of his character.
(Text by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)
Marks and Labels
Everhard Jabach [1610-1695], Paris. Possibly Nicolaus Hudtwalcker [1791-1863], Hamburg, by 1863. (Nathan Katz, The Hague and Dieren); (his sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 12 July 1950, no. 9). (Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Amsterdam). W. Reineke, Amersfoort, by 1962. Private collection, The Netherlands, by 1982; (Noortman Ltd., London and Maastricht); purchased 9 June 1994 by NGA.
- Hundert Seltene Höllander, Galerie Dr. Schäfer, Berlin, 1932, no. 16.
- Hundert Seltene Holländer, Galerie Dr. Schäffer, Berlin, 1932, no. 16, as Bauer, eine Grimmasse schneidend.
- Adriaen Brouwer/David Teniers the Younger. A Loan Exhibition of Paintings, Noortman & Brod, New York; Noortman & Brod, Maastricht, The Netherlands, 1982, no. 7, color repro., as Boy pulling faces.
- Adriaen Brouwer: Youth Making a Face, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1995-1996, unnumbered brochure, color repro. on cover.
- A Collector's Cabinet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, no. 8, fig. 16.
- Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Parthey, Gustav Frederich. Deutscher Bildersaal. 1864: 1:208 (possibly the NGA painting).
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 3(1910):657, no. 222j (possibly).
- Knuttel, Gerard (Gerhardus). Adriaen Brouwer. The Master and His Work. The Hague, 1962: 152, pl. 103.
- Robert Noortman Gallery. Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings. Maastricht and London, 1993: no. 6, color repro.
- Sutton, Peter C., and Marjorie E. Wieseman, et al. The Age of Rubens. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art. Boston, 1993: 62, repro.
- Richard, Paul. "Small Wonders: At the National Gallery, Some Tiny Dutch Treats." Washington Post (September 23, 1995): C1-2, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. A Collector's Cabinet. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1998: 65, no. 8.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 10-13, color repro.
- Tummers, Anna. The Eye of the Connoisseur: Authenticating Paintings by Rembrandt and His Contemporaries. Amsterdam, 2012: 156, color fig. 98.
Work of Art
Work of Art
- Event Name
- March 1–June 1
- Mon, Tues, and Wed at 1:00
- March 5, 2012 at 2:00
March 7, 2012 at 4:00
- East Building, Auditorium
- Name of docent
- 60 minutes
- Registration for this event begins on April 1, 2012 at noon.
- Download the program notes (100k)
- Italian Collection