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Adri­aen van Ostade, Dutch, 1610-1685: Study of a Seat­ed Man Hold­ing a Pipe, c. 1670-80 

A man hold­ing a pipe and con­vey­ing a sense of list­less­ness or bore­dom, sits cross-legged in a chair cob­bled-togeth­er chair from pieces of recy­cled wood. Adri­aen van Ostade cre­at­ed a num­ber of sim­i­lar small-scale draw­ings in water­col­or show­ing men smok­ing, danc­ing, and play­ing games. Such fig­ures were often fea­tured in his cel­e­brat­ed tav­ern scene paint­ings. This study does not appear in any known fin­ished com­po­si­tion, but rather belongs to a group of three other sheets, each show­ing a seat­ed man rest­ing his head on his hand. Togeth­er, they may have rep­re­sent­ed a set offered to a collector.

Adri­aen van Ostade made a num­ber of these charm­ing, small-scale fig­ure stud­ies in water­col­or. Three other sheets relate specif­i­cal­ly to this one (two in the Rijksmu­se­um, and one in the Spe­cial Col­lec­tions of the Lei­den Uni­ver­si­ty Libraries), each show­ing a seat­ed man rest­ing his head on his hand Fig. 62.1 Fig. 62.2 Fig. 62.3.1

Adriaen van Ostade, Study of a Seated Man
Fig. 62.1

Adri­aen van Ostade, Study of a Seat­ed Man. Pen in brown ink and brush in water­col­or on paper, 91 × 61 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. RP-T-1881-A-113.

Adriaen van Ostade, Study of a Seated Man Holding a Pipe
Fig. 62.2

Adri­aen van Ostade, Study of a Seat­ed Man Hold­ing a Pipe. Pen in brown ink and brush in water­col­or on paper, 92 × 71 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. RP-T1881-A-112.

Adriaen van Ostade, Study of a Seated Man with Legs Crossed
Fig. 62.3

Adri­aen van Ostade, Study of a Seat­ed Man with Legs Crossed. Pen in brown ink and brush in water­col­or on paper, 82 × 72 mm. Uni­ver­si­taire Bib­lio­theken Lei­den, inv. no. PK-T-AW-31.

All four are signed by the artist with his AVO mono­gram. Van Ostade pro­duced dozens of other small-scale drawn fig­ure stud­ies show­ing men smok­ing, danc­ing, play­ing games, or engag­ing in any num­ber of activ­i­ties that one also finds in his paint­ings and prints.2

Although some of his small stud­ies still pose ques­tions of attri­bu­tion, and oth­ers were retouched by his pupil, Cor­nelis Dusart (1660 – 1704), all four of these draw­ings appear to be sole­ly the work of Van Ostade alone.3

Because of their degree of fin­ish and the sig­na­tures, he like­ly intend­ed these for the col­lec­tor’s mar­ket, even given their diminu­tive size. Pos­si­bly, he once offered them as a set.

Accord­ing to Bern­hard Schnack­en­burg, most of Van Ostade’s draw­ings with water­col­or date to the lat­ter part of his career.4

This accords with the story told by Arnold Houbrak­en (1660 – 1719) that Van Ostade fled invad­ing French troops in 1672, first with the intent of mov­ing to Lübeck in Ger­many, but never mak­ing it out of Ams­ter­dam. There he took up in earnest the medi­um of water­col­or (being away from his paints and stu­dio) in the house of a sup­port­ive art lover and wealthy silk dyer named Con­stan­ti­jn Sen­nepart (1625 – 1703).5

A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of high­ly fin­ished multi-fig­ure water­col­or draw­ings signed and dated by the artist indeed date to the lat­ter part of his career. It seems rea­son­able to pre­sume that these four relat­ed stud­ies date to this peri­od as well. They dis­play all of the sophis­ti­ca­tion of tech­nique that Van Ostade devel­oped in his larg­er water­col­ors, using sat­u­rat­ed col­ors, for exam­ple, to devel­op a con­vinc­ing sense of direc­tion­al light, as seen in the Peck draw­ing around the man’s chest and along his sleeves.

Van Ostade’s depic­tions of men with their heads propped on one hand can occa­sion­al­ly be found among the cast of char­ac­ters fea­tured in his tav­ern scenes, though none in this par­tic­u­lar group of four stud­ies were used in any known work by the artist. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, this pose might be con­strued as a sign of melancholy.

These four fig­ures, how­ev­er, do not con­vey any obvi­ous sad­ness, but rather a sense of tired­ness or per­haps gen­er­al ennui. The men in the two Rijksmu­se­um draw­ings both wear aprons, which were almost cer­tain­ly meant to iden­ti­fy them as pub­li­cans or innkeep­ers tak­ing a break from their duties. One of them, along with the fig­ure in the Peck draw­ing, holds a clay pipe in his hands. Con­cern­ing the effects of tobac­co on mood, sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry atti­tudes about its nar­cot­ic effects could be quite var­i­ous.6

Van Ostade was just as like­ly to depict his smok­ers in a merry dis­po­si­tion as not.7

A whim­si­cal fea­ture of the Peck draw­ing is the adroit­ly made home­made chair, cob­bled togeth­er from var­i­ous planks of recy­cled wood rather than being the usual turned-wood and wick­er type made by pro­fes­sion­al craftsmen.

End Notes

  1. For the group of four draw­ings, see Schnack­en­burg 1981, vol. 1, 144, nos. 319 – 22, vol. 2, 146, nos. 319 – 22.

  2. For the other small, late fig­ure stud­ies, see espe­cial­ly Schnack­en­burg 1981, nos. 298 – 359. Larg­er groups of these draw­ings (both orig­i­nals and copies) can be found in the National­mu­se­um, Stock­holm (Mag­nus­son 2018, nos. 269 – 79); British Muse­um, Lon­don (Hind 1915 – 32, vol. 4, nos. 5 – 41); and Ash­molean Muse­um, Oxford (Park­er 1938, vol. 1, nos. 170.1 – 9).

  3. For this issue, see Schnack­en­burg 1981, vol. 1, 60 – 63; and Ander­son 2015.

  4. Schnack­en­burg 1981, vol. 1, 41 – 42.

  5. Houbrak­en 1718 – 21, vol. 1, 347 – 48.

  6. See Gaskell 1987.

  7. For Van Ostade’s smok­ers who are more obvi­ous­ly in a merry mood, see, for exam­ple, the etch­ing Smok­er Lean­ing on the Back of a Chair (Bartsch, 6; and L. Slatkes in Van der Coe­len et al. 1998, 96 – 97, no. 6); and the black chalk draw­ing Seat­ed Peas­ant (Cam­bridge, Fogg Muse­um, inv. no. 1999.123.38), for which see Robin­son & Ander­son 2016, 215, fig. 2, under no. 62.