Peasants playing dice outside an inn


Peasants playing dice outside an inn

1610 to 1690 Belgium

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Engraved: Jacques-Nocolas Tardieu (1718-1798), 'L'Estaminette Tranquille'.

Tavern scenes and game players feature prominently in David Teniers' oeuvre. Moments of leisure, whether at the kermis, at a rural wedding, or on a long afternoon of drinking, were moments that he clearly studied with some fascination. In Peasants playing dice outside an inn, which will be included in Margret Klinge's catalogue raisonné on the artist, a group of men gathers around a table in the courtyard, all of the familiar props from the indoor tavern scene - the wooden benches, ceramic jugs, and clay pipes - now exposed to daylight and open air. The familiar background figure, seen leaning against the fireplace in the indoor scenes, is here turned away from the group as he relieves himself on the fence. The two principal gamers stand at the centre of the scene and the man in black at the left raises his hand as he prepares to roll the dice. The money that is at stake is on the table together with the score that has been marked in white chalk. His opponent on the right, who carries a sword and wears an exotic fur lined hat, holds up a coin, and the pouch in his left hand indicates that he has plenty more to wager. Excluded from this intense exchange, the attention of their two companions seems to wander.

Teniers depicted the theme of gaming in one of his earliest paintings, Youths Playing Cards of 1633 (Kassel, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister) and a whole range of gamers appear throughout his oeuvre, among them skittle players, bowlers, archers, and even backgammon players. The game in this painting, dice shooters, first appears in a painting of the same name, The Dice Shooters, of around 1640 (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), in which a less exotic group gathers around a table in a tavern. Soldiers appear playing dice shooters in the foreground of Teniers' Liberation of St. Peter from Prison (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Gemäldegalerie), of 1641. While moralizing messages are not generally associated with Teniers' tavern scenes, the juxtaposition of the soldiers, absorbed in the next roll of the dice, with the miracle taking place in the background, complete with winged angel and heavenly light, is difficult to ignore. Indeed, the church regarded such games of chance in a negative light. If not a sin, they were certainly considered a vice and, while overtly moralizing commentary was surely not the point of Teniers' tavern scenes, the association of drinking, smoking, and gaming with vice would not have been lost on the contemporary viewer.

Teniers painted Peasants playing dice outside an inn in 1665, the same year in which his patron, Philip IV of Spain, died and his newly founded Academy of Art in Antwerp held its first lessons. Teniers' interest in nature and country life began in the 1640s and has been described as fully pastoral by the early 1660s. His Le Berger rêveur and Le Berger content (Wãnas, Sweden, Count Carl-Alexander Wachtmeister), also painted in the 1660s, depict contemplative shepherds, one young one old, who sit surrounded by their flocks in idealised landscapes with classicising buildings in the distance. As with Peasants playing dice outside an inn, the landscape is emphasised and Teniers' palette is lighter in tonality than in previous decades. This shift towards the pastoral is almost certainly related to events in the artist's life. By 1663, he had created a rural idyll of his own with his purchase of a country house, Drij Toren (Three Towers), at Perk. The 1660s also saw the publication of Teniers' Theatrum Pictorium, the first illustrated catalogue of a collection, and an apologia on him and his work written by the biographer and art theorist Cornelis de Bie.

Archbutt collection; Presumably Joseph Neeld (1789-1856), and by descent to
L.W. Neeld, Grittleton House, Wiltshire; Christie's, London, 9 June 1944, lot 32 (550 gns. to Slatter); with Eugene Slatter, London, 1944; Mrs. C.A. Karet; with Richard Green, 1983, by whom sold to the family of the present owner.
London, Eugene Slatter Gallery, Life and Still Life in Seventeenth Century Netherlands, 29 November 1944-13 January 1945, no. 40.
Height 34.30 cm (13.50 inches)
Width 25.80 cm (10.16 inches)
Oil on panel
Signed and dated lower left and lower centre on the table base; ‘D•TENIERS fec' and '1665'
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