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Cor­nelis Dusart, Dutch, 1660-1704

A Bagpiper, c. 1695 

This depic­tion of a bag­pipe play­er belongs to a series of four draw­ings fea­tur­ing musi­cians, the oth­ers being fid­dle, hurdy-gurdy, and lute play­ers. Tra­di­tion­al­ly con­sid­ered comic fig­ures, bag­pipe per­form­ers were often asso­ci­at­ed with fes­tiv­i­ties and danc­ing at vil­lage fairs, tav­erns, inns, and dance­halls, fre­quent­ed par­tic­u­lar­ly among the lower class­es. In addi­tion to his slouched pos­ture and tat­tered appear­ance, con­tem­po­rary view­ers would have been amused by the extend­ed posi­tion of his drone pipes, which should be rest­ing on his shoulder. 

Cor­nelis Dusart made this draw­ing on Japan­ese paper import­ed by the Dutch East India Com­pa­ny, a con­sid­er­ably more expen­sive mate­r­i­al than Euro­pean paper. The con­trast between the low-life sub­ject and its lux­u­ry sup­port would have been high­ly appeal­ing to col­lec­tors at the time.

Cor­nelis Dusart’s Bag­piper is one of a series of four signed and dated draw­ings of musi­cians that he exe­cut­ed on the cost­ly and unusu­al sup­port of Japan­ese paper.1

In con­trast to the refine­ment of their exe­cu­tion, each shows a some­what ragged and com­i­cal­ly low-life fig­ure play­ing an instru­ment.2

This Bag­piper can afford lit­tle facial expres­sion since he is blow­ing intent­ly on his mouth­piece, but the smil­ing coun­te­nances of the other fig­ures in the series betray a fes­tive demeanor, as one sees in the Fid­dler Fig. 65.1, for­mer­ly in the Peck Col­lec­tion but sold at auc­tion in 2008, and the Hurdy-Gurdy Play­er in Chica­go Fig. 65.2.3

Cornelis Dusart, The Fiddler
Fig. 65.1

Cor­nelis Dusart, The Fid­dler, 1695. Pen and black ink with gray wash on Japan­ese paper, 179 × 115 mm. Present where­abouts unknown.

Cornelis Dusart, The Hurdy-Gurdy Player
Fig. 65.2

Cor­nelis Dusart, The Hurdy-Gurdy Play­er, 1695. Pen and black ink with gray wash on Japan­ese paper, 177 × 115 mm. Chica­go, Art Insti­tute of Chica­go, inv. no. 1972.774.

The fourth draw­ing, a Lute Play­er, was last record­ed at auc­tion in 1967 and has never been illus­trat­ed, but his like­ness can be sur­mised from a mez­zotint by Jacob Gole (1665– 1724) that faith­ful­ly repro­duces the Hurdy-Gurdy Play­er along­side him Fig. 65.3.4

Jacob Gole, after Cornelis Dusart, The Hurdy-Gurdy Player and Lute Player
Fig. 65.3

Jacob Gole, after Cor­nelis Dusart, The Hurdy-Gurdy Play­er and Lute Play­er, before 1724. Mez­zotint and etch­ing on paper, 175 × 204 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. rp-p-ob-17.101.

By Dusart’s day, artists had already devel­oped a long tra­di­tion of com­i­cal­ly depict­ing bag­pipe play­ers in prints from the Ger­man Renais­sance onward.5

Icono­g­ra­phers have some­times over­stressed the erot­ic con­no­ta­tions of an instru­ment that resem­bles male gen­i­talia, but a com­mon thread that more safe­ly unites these depic­tions is their near­ly uni­ver­sal asso­ci­a­tion with fes­tiv­i­ties, both urban and rural, and espe­cial­ly those that involve danc­ing. All four of the instru­ments in Dusart’s series are the type that might be per­formed at a ker­mis in a vil­lage, a rowdy tav­ern or inn, or in one of the musi­cos or dance halls that pro­vid­ed enter­tain­ment for the broth­el-friend­ly habitués found in cities. The bag­pipes and hurdy-gurdy, in par­tic­u­lar, were asso­ci­at­ed with the lower class­es, and thus instru­ments not to be han­dled by any­one with a sense of pro­pri­ety.6

The vio­lin and lute, how­ev­er, were more crossover” instru­ments in terms of class, and were some­times found in the hands of artists them­selves. For exam­ple, Dusart, who was the son of the organ­ist of St. Bavo, owned two vio­lins and like­ly knew how to play them.7

It is worth not­ing as well that the miss­ing Lute Play­er bears a strik­ing resem­blance to the comic painter Jan Steen (1626 – 1679), who was fond of depict­ing him­self play­ing that instru­ment.8

This is not to say that artists would hes­i­tate to make spe­cif­ic asso­ci­a­tions with cer­tain types of musi­cians. For an image of a bag­piper from 1630 by Jan van de Velde II (1593 – 1641), Samuel Ampz­ing (1590 – 1632) penned a verse that begins, I belong to the slug­gard’s guild, to the band of appren­tice beg­gars who would rather play than work…” 9

This atti­tude finds cor­re­spon­dence in Dusart’s bag­piper, whose slouch­ing pose and tilt­ed head exhib­it a cer­tain insou­ciance, as does the fact that his drone pipes (the two stick­ing out fur­thest on the left) fall awk­ward­ly in front of him rather than sit ver­ti­cal­ly against his shoul­der, as was the norm. As Her­man Rood­en­burg point­ed out, it was pre­cise­ly the per­ceived impro­pri­ety of these con­tort­ed poses that con­tem­po­rary view­ers found so com­i­cal.10

Schol­ars have spec­u­lat­ed that this series of draw­ings and the relat­ed print by Gole were part of an effort to pro­duce a series of musi­cians in mez­zotint, as Dusart and Gole had done on other series.11

Only one pair of musi­cians appeared in print, how­ev­er, sug­gest­ing that Gole did not actu­al­ly col­lab­o­rate with Dusart in exe­cut­ing the print of the Hurdy-Gurdy Play­er and Lute Play­er, but rather had access to Dusart’s draw­ings after the artist’s death. Gole made a sim­i­lar mez­zotint depict­ing two fig­ures against a dark back­ground gen­er­at­ed from sep­a­rate draw­ings by Adri­aen van Ostade (1610 – 1685), almost cer­tain­ly after that artist had died.12

He could have owned or had access to some of Ostade’s draw­ings (per­haps even from the estate of Dusart, Ostade’s pupil) from which he made prints on his own ini­tia­tive. Fur­ther­more, Dusart’s prepara­to­ry draw­ings for Gole’s mez­zot­ints tend to be dif­fer­ent in nature: loos­er and more wash-based in con­junc­tion with the tonal val­ues of that process. The signed and fin­ished works dis­cussed here, on the other hand, were clear­ly intend­ed for the col­lec­tors’ mar­ket from the out­set. By the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, the two pairs of draw­ings of musi­cians by Dusart were already in sep­a­rate col­lec­tions: the Hurdy-Gurdy Play­er and Lute Play­er in the col­lec­tion of Ger­rit van Rossum (1699 – 1772), and the present work and the Fid­dler in that of William Esdaile (1758 – 1837), each pair sub­se­quent­ly remain­ing togeth­er for two cen­turies.13

The Asian paper that Dusart used for this and the other draw­ings in the series, assumed with some con­fi­dence to be Japan­ese in ori­gin, would have been a lux­u­ry sup­port. The same can be said of vel­lum, which was also an expen­sive mate­r­i­al that he and other artists would use for cer­tain draw­ings, though paper like this from the other side of the world would have been less avail­able. In Dusart’s day, it was called East-Indi­an paper (Oost-Indisch papi­er) since its only prob­a­ble source would have been through trade with the Dutch East India Com­pa­ny (Vereenigde Oost-Indis­che Com­pag­nie, or VOC). Rem­brandt is cred­it­ed for being the first West­ern artist to pop­u­lar­ize the use of Asian paper, which he used for spe­cial impres­sions of his prints from around 1647 onward.14

Like vel­lum, it pro­vides a slight­ly less absorbent sur­face, which accounts in some mea­sure for Dusart’s del­i­cate­ly applied wash­es in this work, but also an appeal­ing­ly buff tone that reduces over­all con­trast. Though he made these draw­ings decades after Rem­brandt (1606 – 1669) exper­i­ment­ed with Asian papers, Dusart’s series would have still been con­sid­ered high­ly unusu­al — not to men­tion col­lectible— to its con­tem­po­rary audi­ence. In the same decade that Dusart drew these works, both Roger de Piles (1635 – 1709) and Flo­rent le Comte (c. 1655 – c. 1712) wrote about the desir­abil­i­ty of Rem­brandt’s prints on Asian papers.15

William Esdaile, the ear­li­est known owner of the present draw­ing, pos­sessed a notable col­lec­tion of such impres­sions of Rem­brandt’s prints.16

He no doubt found the use of Asian paper for this draw­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly appeal­ing as well.

End Notes

  1. The group of four draw­ings was first iden­ti­fied as a set by Susan Ander­son, as cited by Vic­to­ria San­cho Lobis in Chica­go 2019 – 20, 173, note 27. All four draw­ings are near­ly iden­ti­cal in size, about 175/180 × 115 mm. An incor­rect width of 155 mm for both the present draw­ing and the Fid­dler is occa­sion­al­ly found in the lit­er­a­ture, but this mea­sure­ment repeats a mis­take made in the 1987 auc­tion cat­a­logue in which both draw­ings appeared in the same lot (Christie’s, New York, 13 Jan­u­ary 1987, lot 133).

  2. The point about the con­trast noted by Lobis in Chica­go 2019 – 20, 146 – 47.

  3. The Fid­dler was sold at Sothe­by’s, New York, 23 Jan­u­ary 2008, lot 173. For the Hurdy-Gurdy Play­er in the Art Insti­tute of Chica­go (inv. no. 1972.774), see Chica­go 2019 – 20, 294, no. 47; and Perlove & Keyes 2015, 144 – 45, no. 56.

  4. For the draw­ing of the Lute Play­er, see sale, Ven­due­huis der Notaris­sen, The Hague, 7 – 8 Novem­ber 1967, lot 138 (the Hurdy-Gurdy Play­er now in Chica­go was lot 137). For the mez­zotint by Gole, see Holl­stein, vol. 7, 227, no. 189; and Wes­se­ly 1889, 62 – 63, no. 189.

  5. See Antwerp 1994; and Win­ter­nitz 1979 (espe­cial­ly ch. 4, Bag­pipes and Hurdy-gur­dies in Their Social Set­ting”). Bag­pipers and other musi­cians were also a favorite sub­ject of Dusart’s teacher, Adri­aen van Ostade.

  6. For the dis­tinc­tion, see the entries in Ams­ter­dam 1997, nos. 18 (by Ger Lui­jten) and 38 (by Eddy de Jongh).

  7. Ander­son 2010, 137, 141 (note 20).

  8. Jacob Gole also made a mez­zotint that repro­duces one of Steen’s self-rep­re­sen­ta­tions play­ing the lute (present­ly in the Thyssen-Borne­misza Museo Nacional, Madrid); Holl­stein, no. 121.

  9. See Van Thiel 1996, 185. The orig­i­nal reads: Ik ben van’t leuyaerds gild, en van de bedel-klerken / Die liev­er spe­len gaen, dan dat sy souden werken.”

  10. Rood­en­burg 1993. See fur­ther Knapp 1996, 37 – 39.

  11. V. S. Lobis in Chica­go 2019 – 20, 173 (note 27).

  12. Holl­stein, no. 200. Since a priv­i­lege appears on the print, and Gole received this right for the first time in 1688 (see Obreen 1877 – 90, vol. 7, 155), we can sur­mise that Gole pub­lished Ostade’s draw­ings posthu­mous­ly. For Ostade’s orig­i­nal draw­ings of the fig­ures that appear in the mez­zotint, see Schnack­en­burg 1981, nos. 294 – 95.

  13. For the pair of draw­ings in Van Rossum’s col­lec­tion, see Dumas 2015, 255 – 56, nos. 199 – 200.

  14. See R. Fucci in New York 2015, 19 – 20, with fur­ther references.

  15. R. Fucci in New York 2015, 31 – 32.

  16. See the entry for Esdaile (Lugt 2617) online: www​.mar​ques​de​scol​lec​tions​.fr.