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 (
See Linda A. Stone-Ferrier, Dutch Prints of Daily Life: Mirrors of Life or Mask of Morals? (Lawrence, 1983), 216.
The stork always returns to the same nest, so innkeepers hoped that travelers would likewise return to their particular inn. There seems to have been no scarcity of storks in the Netherlands if one is to judge from the comments of John Ray in his Observations Topographical, Moral, and Physiological; Made in a Journey Through Part of the Low-Countries, Germany, Italy, and France (London, 1673), 56.
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.”
John Ray, Observations Topographical, Moral, and Physiological; Made in a Journey Through Part of the Low-Countries, Germany, Italy, and France (London, 1673), 50–51.
In contrast to the horizontal format of
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); 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; (his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 8-9 May 1865, no. 23); (Nieuwenhuys). Marquis H. de V., Paris; (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); purchased by Richard A. and Lee G. Kirstein, Washington, D.C.; gift 1991 to NGA.
- 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.
- Rank and Status in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, 2015-2016.
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.
- stork +used symbolically
- chicken +used symbolically
- beer +used symbolically
- communal life
- the poor
- contrast between urban and rural life
- rural life
- animal-drawn vehicle