Painter, draughtsman and printmaker, Cornelis Dusart was born in Haarlem, the son of a church organist. A pupil of both Jan Steen (c1626-1679) and Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685), he specialized in depicting the very popular lowlife themes of the Dutch lower class. Following Van Ostade’s death in 1685, Dusart took over the contents of the studio and owned both Adriaen’s works and those of Van Ostade’s brother, Isack. Not only did the artist rework and sell many of their drawings, assimilating their styles and subjects in the process, but he also finished or modified oil paintings by Jan Steen, whose style inspired him to develop figures with exaggerated expressions, gestures and dress.
It is this type of iconography which was central to a genre of Dutch art in which everyday people are engaged in common activities. In addition, the stylized and exaggerated ways of depicting the peasant body confirmed the contemporary notions of what constituted proper and improper bodily posture. Cornelis Dusart underscored his subjects’ lewd behaviour through suggestive details: rustic wooden furniture and earthenware jugs; food, pipes and playing cards scattered about; patrons’ ragged clothes and missing teeth. In etiquette books of the time, for example, it was recommended to upper-class readers to avoid slouching and putting wait on both legs – postures that were associated with members of the lower classes.
Here, however, the draughtsman has adopted a more restrained treatment of the peasant shifting from the dishevelled, raucous and vulgar to the relatively decorous. Indeed, it reflects a new perception of the countryman as contented and carefree and is the kind of idealized view of peasant life which appealed to the prosperous collectors. By the same token, it also helped to emphasize the perceived differences between the upper and lower classes and between city and country. Drawings such as Scene at an Inn served as finished work of art and were often framed and hung, or simply pinned up, on the walls of middle-class homes.
The attribution of this drawing was confirmed by Dr Bernard Schnackenburg.