A Winter Scene with a Man Killing a Pig by David Teniers the Younger

A Winter Scene with a Man Killing a Pig by David Teniers II (c.1650)

I think there is an adage, or maybe it was just advice I was once given, that says you should be happy with what you have or maybe it was that you should just want what you have.  There is certainly an element of truth in that as I can always remember a disastrous policy my former company brought out in making it known to all the employees what each person earned by publishing the grades of each employee and having a separate list of salary against each grade.  Up to that point nobody knew what each other earned and most people had, until then,  been reasonably happy with their remuneration but once they found out what their colleagues earned there were unmerciful screams around the building.

So what has all this got to do with art?  The reason I bring this up is that as I told you the other day I went to see the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London and a large number of them focused on winter in Canada.  The winter scenes were well executed and very lifelike.  However the problem came when I decided to have a look around the rest of the Gallery and its permanent collection and came across a winter landscape by David Teniers the Younger and really, in my mind, it was in a different class to those of the Canadian artists.  I was completely amazed by the works of the Canadian artists until my eyes focused on Teniers’ work.  Of course, by now you know I love Dutch and Flemish art and therefore I am slightly biased with my comparison but I thought I would let you compare the two styles and see what you think.

David Teniers the Younger was born in Antwerp in 1610.  His father was David Teniers the Elder, also an artist, as were his son David Teniers III and grandson, David Teniers IV.  His artistic connections don’t end there as his wife, Anna, was the daughter of Jan (Velvet) Brueghel the Elder and granddaughter of the Master himself, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. His initial art training came from his father whose artistic talent would soon be eclipsed by his son, who would become the most famous, most revered and most prolific of the Teniers’ family of artists.  Adriaen Brouwer, who at the time was well known and well loved for his everyday scenes,  greatly influenced Teniers during his early career as did Rubens who was his wife-to-be’s guardian.  At the age of twenty-two he was registered in the Antwerp Guild of St Luke and would later become deacon of that painter’s association.

In 1637 he married Anna Brueghel.   The major part of Anna’s dowry was made up of pictures and drawings completed by her grandfather, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and her father, Jan Brueghel.  Teniers spent much time studying these beautifully crafted works of art and they proved to be significant in the development of Teniers’s genre painting.  In the year of his marriage to Anna Breughel, Teniers painted his first genre work entitled Peasant Wedding, which hangs in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.  It was the period between 1640 and 1650 that art historians believe Teniers produced his finest works.  His expertise at depicting village scenes with large crowds of people, often in an open landscape was breathtaking.  There was often an element of humour in his paintings and warmth in the way his characters were depicted on his canvases.  In many of his works one could recognise the influence of the Bruegel family.

In 1651, David Teniers and his family moved to Brussels and besides carrying on his own art business he took up the post of court painter and the director of the art gallery of the Spanish governor-general, Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm.  If you look back to My Daily Art Display of January 18th you will see a painting Teniers completed entitled Archduke Leopold William in his Gallery at Brusselswhich precisely documented some of the famous works from the Archduke’s collection. Whilst looking after this vast collection Teniers made many small-scale individual copies of paintings in the Duke’s collection by foreign artists, especially the paintings of the Italian Masters. Of these, two hundred and forty-four were engraved in 1660 under the title Theatrum Pictorium. 

On the death of the Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm his successor, Don Jon of Austria continued to employ Teniers as court painter and in 1663 Teniers founded the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp which still exists and is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe.  David Teniers the Younger was a highly productive artist and when he died in 1690, he left more than two thousand works.  Most of the major galleries of the world exhibit a number of his works.  He was an extremely good businessman and was highly liked by the aristocracy.  Teniers knew the type of art the people liked and was very astute when it came to following the latest fashions and whims of his clients.   His art work covered numerous subjects from portraits and religious scenes to genre pictures and still-life paintings.  Teniers died at the age of seventy-nine in Brussels, five years after the death of his eldest son, David Teniers III.

The featured work for My Daily Art Display today is a painting David Teniers the Younger completed around 1650 and is entitled A Winter Scene with a Man Killing a Pig.  The painting is amazing.  It just glows in front of your eyes.  An art historian and contemporary of Teniers summed up the beauty of this painting when he wrote:

“…For the richness of his golden and silvery light, for the delicacy of his vivid colours there is only one word, and that word is ‘magical…”

Before us we see a winter landscape and in some ways reminiscent of Teniers’ wife’s grandfather, Pieter Brueghel’s work, Hunters in the Snow another winter landscape painting completed almost a hundred years earlier.  As well as being a landscape painting it is also a genre picture which does not offer us an idealized landscape, but instead provides us with a window for us to see real people getting on with their daily lives in a real setting.  Snow lies deep on the ground and by the looks of the dark clouds there is more snow to come.  Look how the artist depicts the rays of weak sunlight forcing their way through the clouds to light up the frosty winter scene.

Work on the farms almost came to a halt at wintertime giving time to the peasants to take the break from working the fields and well-earned time to sleigh and skate.  To the left of the painting we see some houses.  In front of the nearest house, a pig is about to be slaughtered.  Although we may cringe at the depiction of the killing it should be remembered that in Teniers time this would be a common practice.  It marked a time of celebration and we see emerging from the end house, a woman carrying a baby and an old man, dressed in black, leading out a young child so they could witness the scene.  The butcher kneels on the animal while a woman holds out a pan to collect the blood. Every part of the carcass will be used.  The children would be given the pig’s bladder so that they could blow it up and use it as a ball.  The skin, once the hair had been singed off it, would be used as a kind of leather, maybe for shoes.  The flesh from the large animal would provide meat for their meals all the way to Lent, at which time, the staple food would switch to fish until the end of the “fast” and the arrival of Easter.

So now you have seen an early twentieth century Canadian winter scene and a mid-seventeenth Dutch winter scene and I will let you choose which you prefer