Adriaen van Ostade

Peasant Settling his Debt

Peasant Settling his Debt by Adriaen van Ostade

Artwork Detail

By the seventeenth century, genre subjects were firmly established within Northern art. The 'mirror of everyday life', such scenes focused particularly on beggars and 'low-lifes'. Peasants were a subject that Van Ostade returned to numerous times throughout his career. Seen as a group, you get the sense that you are revisiting familiar haunts and encountering acquaintances as they go about their business. Other examples from the Gallery’s collection show a baker blowing his horn to announce that his bread is baked, while another shows a fiddler busking to a captive audience. It is as if he creates a lively graphic neighbourhood peopled by known characters and locales.

Van Ostade crafts this interior scene using the flagstones and roof beams to create a sense of depth. His fascination with the effects of chiaroscuro (the depiction of light and shade) is clearly visible. The light falling on his subjects is expertly conveyed using the white of the paper, which sharply contrasts with the deep black of his shadows. The rays of light coming through the door direct the viewer to the narrative, highlighting the peasant counting out his debt to his usurer. In the background a figure sits within the chimney stoking the fire, while his companions converse, illuminated by its flames.

Clifford S. Ackley remarks with regard to another print, that the artist takes ‘visual pleasure in picturesque dilapidation’. Adding that such an interest is also borne out in his depiction, as ‘Everything is drawn in irregular, sketchy, broken strokes, lending surfaces an appropriately shaggy or crumbly texture.’ Ackley’s comments are equally applicable here.

This work has a remarkable provenance dating back to the collection of John Barnard (d. 1784), a fact recorded by the cursive initials JB on the verso of the print. Lugt notes that 'of all the English collectors' marks his is the most revered.' Further commenting ‘its presence on a sheet assures one…that a better impression is unobtainable.’ (Masters of the Bitten Line, 2006)

Peasant Settling his Debt
Adriaen van Ostade
Production date
circa 1650-circa 1653
102 x 85 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1981
Accession no
No known copyright restrictions
International Art
Display status
Not on display

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