Renowned Art
Adriaen van Ostade



Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685, born Adriaen Hendricx) was a Dutch painter.

He was the eldest son of Jan Hendricx Ostade, who was from the town of Ostade near Eindhoven. Although born in Haarlem themselves, both Adriaen and his brother Isaack adopted the name "van Ostade" as painters.

According to Houbraken he was taught by Frans Hals from 1627, at that time master of Adriaen Brouwer and Jan Miense Molenaer. At twenty-six he joined a company of the civic guard at Haarlem, and at twenty-eight he married. His wife died in 1640 and he speedily re-married, but again became a widower in 1666. He took the highest honours of his profession, the presidency of the Lukas Guild at Haarlem, in 1662. Among the treasures of the Louvre collection, a striking picture represents the father of a large family sitting in state with his wife at his side in a handsomely furnished room, surrounded by his son and five daughters, and a young married couple. It is an old tradition that Ostade here painted himself and his children in holiday attire; yet the style is much too refined for the painter of boors, and Ostade had but one daughter.

The number of Ostade's pictures is given by Smith at three hundred and eighty-five, but by Hofstede de Groot (1910) at over 900. At his death the stock of his unsold pieces was over two hundred. His engraved plates were put up to auction, with the pictures, and fifty etched platesmost of them dated 1647-1648were disposed of in 1686. Two hundred and twenty of his pictures are in public and private collections, of which one hundred and four are signed and dated, while seventeen are signed with the name but not with the date.

Adrian Ostade was the contemporary of David Teniers and Adrian Brouwer. Like them he spent his life in the delineation of the homeliest subjects--tavern scenes, village fairs and country quarters. Between Teniers and Ostade the contrast lies in the different condition of the agricultural classes of Brabant and Holland, and the atmosphere and dweffings that were peculiar to each region. Brabant has more sun, more comfort and a higher type of humanity; Teniers, in consequence, is silvery and sparkling; the people he paints are fair specimens of a well-built race. Holland, in the vicinity of Haarlem seems to have suffered much from war; the air is moist and hazy, and the people, as depicted by Ostade, are short, ill-favoured and marked with the stamp of adversity on their features and dress.

Brouwer, who painted the Dutch boor in his frolics and passion, imported more of the spirit of Frans Hals into his delineations than his colleague; but the type is the same as Ostades. During the first years of his career Ostade displayed the same tendency to exaggeration. and frolic as his comrade, but he is to be distinguished from his rival by a more general use of the principles of light and shade, and esfecially by a greater concentration of light on a small surface in contrast with a broad expanse of gloom. The key of his harmonies remains for a time in, the scale of greys. But his treatment is dry and careful, and in this style he shuns no difficulties of detail, representing cottages inside and out, with the vine leaves covering the poorness of the outer walls, and nothing inside to deck the patchwork of rafters and thatch, or tumble-down. chimneys and ladder staircases, that make up the sordid interior of the Dutch rustic of those days. The greatness of Ostade lies in the fact that he often caught the poetic side of the life of the peasant class, in spite of its ugliness, and stunted form and misshapen. features. He did so by giving their vulgar sports, their quarrels, even their quieter moods of enjoyment, the magic light of the sungleam, and by clothing the wreck of cottages with gay vegetation.

It was natural that, with the tendency to effect which marked Ostade from the first, he should have been fired by emulation to rival the masterpieces of Rembrandt. His early pictures are not so rare but that we can trace how he glided out of one period into the other. Before the dispersion of the Gsell collection at Vienna in 1872, it was easy to study the steel-grey harmonies and exaggerated caricature of his early works in the period intervening between 1632 and 1638. There is a picture of a Countryman having his Tooth Drawn, in the Vienna Gallery, unsigned, and painted about 1632; a Bagpiper of 1635 in the Liechtenstein Gallery at Vienna; cottage scenes of 1635 and 1636, in the museums of Karlsruhe, Darmstadt and Dresden; and Card Players of 1637 in the Liechtenstein palace at Vienna, which make up for the loss of the Gsellcollection. The same style marks most of those pieces.

About 1638 or 1640 the influence of Rembrandt suddenly changed his style, and he painted the Annunciation of the Brunswick museum, where the angels appearing in the sky to Dutch boors half asleep amidst their cattle, sheep and dogs, in front of a cottage, at once recall the similar subject by Rembrandt and his effective mode of lighting the principal groups by rays propelled to the earth out of a murky sky. But Ostade was not successful in this effort to vulgarize Scripture. He might have been pardoned had he given dramatic force and expression to his picture; but his shepherds were only boors without much emotion, passion or surprise. His picture was an effect of light, as such masterly, in its sketchy rubbings, of dark brown tone relieved by strongly impasted lights, but without the very qualities which made his usual subjects attractive.

When, in 1642, he painted the beautiful interior at the Louvre, in which a mother tends her child in a cradle at the side of a great chimney near which her husband is sitting, the darkness of a country loft is dimly illumined by a beam from the sun that shines on the casement; and one might think the painter intended to depict the Nativity, but that there is nothing holy in all the surroundings, nothing attractive indeed except the wonderful Rembrandtesque transparency, the brown tone, and the admirable keeping of the minutest parts. Ostade was more at home in a similar effect applied to the commonplace incident of the "Slaughtering of a Pig", one of the masterpieces of 1643, once in the Gsell collection.

In this and similar subjects of previous and succeeding years, he returned to the homely subjects in which his power and wonderful observation made him a master. He does not seem to have gone back to gospel illustrations till 1667, when he produced an admirable "Nativity", which is only surpassed as regards arrangement and color by Rembrandt's "Carpenter's Family" at the Louvre, or the "Woodcutter and Children" in the gallery of Cassel. Innumerable almost are the more familiar themes to which he devoted his brush durin~ this interval, from small single figures, representing smokers or drinkers, to vulgarized allegories of the five senses (Hermitage, and Brunswick galleries), half-lengths of fishmongers and bakers and cottage brawls, or scenes of gambling, or itinerant players and quacks, and nine-pin players in the open air.

The humour in some of these pieces is contagious, as in the "Tavern Scene" of the Lacaze collection (Louvre, 1653). His art may be studied in the large series of dated pieces which adorn every European capital, from St Petersburg to London. Buckingham Palace has a large number, and many a good specimen lies hidden in the private collections of England. But if we should select a few as peculiarly worthy of attention, we might point to the "Rustics in a Tavern" of 1662 at the Hague, the Village School of the same year at the Louvre, the "Tavern Court-yard" of 1670 at Cassel, the "Sportsmen's Rest" of 1671 at Amsterdam and the Fiddler and his Audience of 1673 at the Hague.

At Amsterdam we have the likeness of a painter, sitting with his back to the spectator, at his easel. The color-grinder is at work in a corner, a pupil prepares a palette and a black dog sleeps on the ground. A replica of this picture, with the date of 1666, is in the Dresden gallery. Both specimens are supposed to represent Ostade himself. But unfortunately we see the artists back and not his face. In his etching (Bartsch, 32) the painter shows himself in profile, at work on a canvas. Two of his latest dated works, the "Village Street" and "Skittle Players", which were noteworthy items in the Ashburton and Ellesmere collections, were executed in 1676 without any sign of declining powers.

The prices which Ostade received are not known, but pictures which were worth 40 in 1750 were worth 1000 a century later, and Earl Dudley gave 4120 for a cottage interior in 1876. The signatures of Ostade vary at different periods. But the first two letters are generally interlaced. Up to 1635 Ostade writes himself Ostaden, e.g. in the "Bagpiper" of 1635 in the Liechtenstein collection at Vienna. Later on he uses the long s (f), and occasionally he signs in capital letters. His pupils are his own brother Isaack, Cornelis Bega, Cornelis Dusart and Richard Brakenburg.


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