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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Isack van Ostade/Workmen before an Inn/1645,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed June 21, 2024).

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Thu Apr 24 00:00:00 EDT 2014 Version
Sun Jan 01 00:00:00 EST 1995 Version

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In Dutch society, inns were not only the hubs of social life and the temporary home of travelers, but they also served as meeting halls for merchants, notaries, and artisan guilds. Tavern drinkers and idlers frequently appear in Dutch genre scenes, but Isack van Ostade’s depiction of workers restocking an inn is very unusual. Under the watchful eye of the innkeeper, two laborers use a yoke to haul barrels of beer or wine off a sledge; their overworked, scrawny horse bears the scars of a hard existence. A small boy brings a jug of ale up from the cellar, a woman sells her wares under a canopy, and a lame man hobbles toward the taproom. Above the doorway, the two barrel staves with the grapevine and the pitcher signal to all travelers that they are approaching an inn. On the chimney, two storks—traditional emblems of voyagers—rest in their nest.

Isack van Ostade was the most important of a number of Haarlem artists who painted rural life in the early seventeenth century, and the area outside a tavern became one of his favorite subjects, as it gave him the chance to combine his skills as a landscapist and a genre painter. A student of his more famous older brother Adriaen van Ostade (1610–1685), Isack died at the young age of twenty-eight. Despite his short artistic career, he had a significant influence on his contemporaries, including Jan Steen (1625/1626–1679), with whom he occasionally collaborated.


Although Isack van Ostade frequently represented travelers halting before an inn (The Halt at the Inn), the focus on the activities of workmen restocking an inn, as in this painting, is exceptional. Here a horse-drawn sledge has stopped before the mottled, brown brick façade of a rustic inn where two laborers strain under the weight of a keg of beer they are lifting with the aid of a yoke. The innkeeper stands in the doorway ready to direct them inside. Above him hang traditional Dutch symbols of welcome and promised conviviality for an inn: a beer jug and two barrel staves adorned with a grapevine.[1] Perched on the chimney is a stork, whose presence, as a traditional emblem of the traveler, was encouraged by innkeepers.[2] Around the building are sights that would have greeted visitors to such a village. A woman seated under a canopy sells her wares, probably pancakes, to an eager clientele of men and children. Near this group a lame man hobbles along supported by his cane and stick. Farther down the road a quack, standing before a large bulletin board, tries to convince his audience of the wonders of his cures. Adding to the picturesque character of the scene are the animals that occupy the foreground: a hen and a rooster scratch and peck, and two dogs lap up the water that has spilled over the edge of the trough, while a third dog, anxious to join them, is restrained by his youthful master.

Inns were the social meeting point for all facets of Dutch society. Whether a welcome wayside in the midst of the coastal dunes, an imposing building on a city square, or a modest structure in one of the villages that dotted the countryside, inns provided food, drink, a setting for business transactions, and occasional lodging. More important, however, inns served as a forum for entertainment, whether it be conversing, gaming, or relaxation during the celebration of a kermis or other holiday. As is suggested in Van Ostade’s painting, the environment might have been picturesque, but it was seldom genteel. John Ray, an English traveler who visited the Dutch Republic in 1663, described innkeepers as being “surly and uncivil.” Ray also found the food hardy—stews, beef, pickled herrings, cheeses, bread—but rather basic and quite expensive: “Their strong Beer, (thick Beer they call it, and well they may) is sold for three Stivers the Quart, which is more than three pence English.”[3]

In contrast to the horizontal format of The Halt at the Inn, which he probably also painted in 1645, Van Ostade chose a vertical format for this work. As a consequence this painting is composed along a single diagonal that recedes to the left rather than with the counterbalancing diagonals found in The Halt at the Inn. This dynamic composition reinforces the sense of activity and enlivens the streetscape. As seems to have been his standard procedure, Van Ostade must have composed this painting in his studio on the basis of drawings he made from life. A comparison with his Halt at the Inn of 1646 in Vienna [fig. 1] suggests how he may have freely adapted his models from one painting to the next: the hobbling man in the Washington painting certainly derives from the same prototype as does the man carrying a bucket at the left in the Vienna painting. Presumably similar modifications occurred with building and animal studies as well.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014


lower right: Isack van Ostade / 1645



Van Tol collection; (sale, Souterwoude [near Leiden], 15 June 1779, no. 13);[1] Wubbels. Jean Etienne Fiseau (variously spelled Fiseau, Fezeau, or Fiziau), Amsterdam; his widow, Mme Jean Etienne Fiseau [née Marie Anne Massé, d. 1790]; (her estate sale, by Philippe van der Schley et al., Amsterdam, 30-31 August 1797, no. 165); (Jan de Bosch, Jeronimusz, Amsterdam). Guillaume-Joseph, baron de Brienen van de Grootelindt [d. 1839], Amsterdam, by 1842; by inheritance to his son, Arnold-Willem, baron de Brienen van de Grootelindt [d. 1854]; by inheritance to his son, Guillaume-Thierry-Arnaud [or Arnold or Armand]-Marie, baron de Brienen van de Grootelindt [d. 1863], Amsterdam;[2] (his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 8-9 May 1865, no. 23); (Nieuwenhuys).[3] Marquis H. de V., Paris;[4] (his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 5-6 June 1871, 2nd day, no. 218); Comte Henri Greffulhe [1848-1932], Paris; (his estate sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 22 July 1937, no. 74); (Roland & Delbanco, London); sold 1939 to Adolf Mayer, The Hague. (Edward Speelman, London). private collection, England. (Duits Gallery, London); sold 1968 to (Christian Humann, Paris and New York); sold 1973 to Dr. Claus Virch, Paris; sold July 1977 to (Brod Gallery, London);[5] purchased by Richard A. and Lee G. Kirstein, Washington, D.C.; gift (partial and promised) January 1991 to NGA; gift completed July 1991.

Exhibition History

A Loan Exhibition of Dutch and Flemish Painting: The Collection of the Late Adolf Mayer, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio, 1948, no. 9.
Loan to display with permanent collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1968-1973.
Old Master Paintings: Exhibition of Recent Acquisitions, Brod Gallery, London, 1977, no. 20.
Art for the Nation: Gifts in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 1991, 72-73, color repro.
Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, 1997, unnumbered brochure, repro.
Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, 2015-2016, no. 51, repro.

Technical Summary

The painting is on a single-board panel with a vertical grain. The original chisel marks are visible on the back. The ground is a smooth, light brown layer of medium thickness. It is allowed to show through the thinly applied paint layers. In the sky the paint was applied more thickly, with low impasto and strong brushwork.

The painting is in very good condition, although small, scattered losses are visible in ultraviolet light. Minor pentimenti in the large tree in the center of the painting and the dogs in the foreground are visible to the naked eye. The painting has not been treated since acquisition.


Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829-1842: 9(1842):132-133, no. 32.
Gueullette, Charles. "La Collection de M. H. de Greffulhe." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 15 (1877): 159-160.
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):466, no. 96.
Allen Memorial Art Museum. "A Loan Exhibition of Dutch and Flemish Paintings: The collection of the late Adolf Mayer." Bulletin of the Allen Memorial Art Museum 5 (1948): 8-9, no. 9, repro. on cover.
Jan van Goyen, 1596-1656: Poet of the Dutch Landscape. Exh. cat. Alan Jacobs Gallery, London, 1977: no. 20.
National Gallery of Art. Art for the Nation: Gifts in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1991: 72-73, color repro.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 194-197, color repro. 195.
Chrysler Museum of Art. Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch paintings from the National Gallery of Art. Exh. brochure. Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk. Washington, 1997: unnumbered repro.
Oud, Ingrid, and Leonoor van Oosterzee. Nederlandse tekenaars geboren tussen 1660 en 1745. Oude tekeningen in het bezit van het Amsterdams Historisch Museum, waaronder de collectie Fodor 5. Edited by Hinke J. Wiggers. Zwolle, 1999: 120, fig. a.

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stork +used symbolically
chicken +used symbolically
beer +used symbolically
communal life
the poor
contrast between urban and rural life
rural life
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