JOOS VAN CRAESBEECK
(Neerlinter circa 1605 – 1654/61 Brussels)
A Peasant Grimacing with his Arm in a Sling
oil on panel
5 ¾ x 4 ⅖ inches (14.6 x 10.9 cm.)
Sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 26 January 2007, lot 1.
De Clippel, Karolien, Joos van Craesbeeck (1605/06-ca. 1660): Een Brabants Genreschilder, Turnhout, Belgium, 2006.
According to chroniclers of the seventeenth-century, Cornelis de Bie (1627-before 1716) and Arnold Houbraken (1660-1719), Joos van Craesbeeck was a student of Adriaen Brouwer. Craesbeeck’s work demonstrates Brouwer’s influence in a number of ways. His portrayals of “low life” subjects, his interest in depicting emotions as revealed in expressions, his use of harmonizing colors, and his technique of thinly applying glazes all speak to Brouwer’s impact on Craesbeeck.
Craesbeeck’s art has its roots in the paintings and prints of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Bruegel is of course famous for his heroic depictions of the Flemish peasant, a legacy that Brouwer and Craesbeeck inherited. Other painters in this tradition include Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer, who filled the gap between Brueghel and Brouwer. These painters were all adept at depicting psychologically penetrating and sympathetic portrayals of lower class subjects. Craesbeeck’s Peasant Grimacing does not idealize nor moralize the subject for the viewer. The peasant’s skin is grayish-brown and wrinkled, his gaping mouth seems toothless, and his beard and hair are unkempt. He wears a simple brown costume and cap, and his head also seems to be injured as he has a bandage wrapped around it.
In this painting, Craesbeeck clearly displays an interest in the physiognomy of the sitter. His art often focused on rendering expressions, particularly difficult ones. Craesbeeck’s chief concern here is the accurate rendering of a face distorted by a grimace. The man is grimacing as a result of his broken arm, supported here in a dingy, handmade sling, which adds to the sensation of pain for the viewer. A larger panel in the Louvre, The Smoker (Self-Portrait?), also displays the same interest in capturing an awkward, and perhaps humorous, expression of the sitter. The present painting is similar to Bruegel’s Yawning Man, now in the Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts of Brussels. Like the Peasant Grimacing, which measures merely 10.9 cm. across, Yawning Man
is very small, only 9.2 cm. wide. A painting on this diminutive scale could have been used as a personal study by the master in preparation for a larger work, or simply as an independent study of an individual, which demonstrates the painter’s ability to capture human feeling and emotion.