SENSUAL PLEASURES – HENDRICK TER BRUGGHEN’S ‘MERRY DRINKER’

Hendrick ter Brugghen, Merry Drinker, 1627

Canvas, 71,3 x 60 cm

© Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich,
photo: Sibylle Forster / Nicole Wilhelms

Details   

SENSUAL PLEASURES – HENDRICK TER BRUGGHEN’S ‘MERRY DRINKER’

Alte Pinakothek
All Eyes On | Room IX

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Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588–1629) was one of the leading “Utrecht Caravaggisti”, a school of Dutch painters who, like many of their contemporaries, flocked to Rome in the early 1600s, where they developed a style inspired by the drama and naturalism of the paintings by Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio (1571–1610). Ter Brugghen painted „The Merry Drinker“ in 1627, at the height of his career. It is the collection’s only work by the artist. Together with two “merry company” scenes by his Utrecht colleague Gerard van Honthorst (1592–1656), the painting is the focal point of the All Eyes On presentation on the theme of “Sensual Pleasures”.

ALL EYES ON highlights a work or group of works, a significant artist personality or artistic position, guest appearances by individual loans, important restorations, or new acquisitions in the midst of the gallery. The artistic as well as technical qualities of the paintings, their content and significance, their history of creation and impact, and their creators are illuminated in the context of the collection. This opens up new, current perspectives and diverse insights into the research work at the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen.

Sensual Pleasures

The half-length figure of a drunken reveller is almost life-size. Radically foregrounded and so close to the picture plane as to appear almost toppling from it, the figure is also partly cropped at the edges, heightening the impression of the man’s physical presence in the viewer’s space. He is dressed in a collarless shirt with a blue-and-white striped pattern, a violet cape, and a broad-brimmed leather beret with a split edge and a white ostrich plume at the side. His colourful attire recalls the style of the lansquenets, whose extravagant, provocative appearance expressed their rakish conduct as mercenary foot soldiers. At the same time, it also brings to mind the costumes worn by actors in Italian commedia dell’arte.
With glassy eyes and one shoulder bared lasciviously, the carouser turns towards the spectator. In his merry state, he is apparently unaware of the beer spilling from the tilted stoneware jug in his right hand. In his left, he is holding a piece of bread, topped with a savoury spread, and clutched between his fingers is a knife. Both elements remind viewers that particularly salty fare—such as corned meat or pekelharing (herring)—unleash uncontrollable thirst. The realistic and candid display of a drunk who has gone off the rails is therefore an admonishment against excessive alcohol consumption and an unsettled way of life.
With their distinctive paintings, whose style melded Caravaggesque visual language with the artists’ own pictorial tradition, the Utrecht Caravaggisti were exceedingly successful and inspired subsequent generations. The dramatic manner of depiction and strongly contrasted handling of light and dark, with spot-like illumination of the figures, also exerted a significant influence on the style of another, at the time still very young contemporary: Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn.

Restoration

The canvas from the Kurfürstliche Galerie in Munich was once part of the permanent exhibition of Dutch painting at the Alte Pinakothek, but due to its deteriorated condition, the artwork could no longer be displayed.
Previously restored about 70 years ago, the painting revealed increasingly obvious visual alterations resulting from the ageing of the material. This specifically affected retouched passages that had subsequently discoloured as well as irregularly aged varnishes which distorted the visual integrity of the artwork overall. In addition, sections of the original paint had experienced a noticeable loss in chromatic intensity. Upon completion of the conservation and restoration work, the spectator can now again better recognize changes that ter Brugghen himself made to certain motifs during the painting process.

We wish to thank the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung for generously supporting the restoration.

Reframing

Until recently, the painting was framed with carved kwabstijl mouldings (known as the “auricular” style, kwab ornamentation features delicate volutes, grotesques, foliate festoons, and conch-like forms). This was not, however, the painting’s original frame, but a later acquisition. Initially gilded, the auricular frame lost its lustre and was subsequently bronzed. This coating, however, darkened significantly over the years. A technical examination of the materials allowed to conclude that a removal of the bronze coating and a subsequent restoration of the still partially gilded frame would be too costly and complicated. In order to restore the original appearance of the artwork, the decision was made to acquire a stylistically appropriate, historical frame. The choice was a dark flammleiste, a type of moulding commonly used in the Netherlands from the 16th century onward. With its alternate dark matte surfaces, polished profiles, and ornamental motifs, the protruding and receding profile of the rails, as well as the undulating pattern of the different flame-like mouldings, this frame underscores the playful dynamic of the painting.

We wish to thank Basel-based framers Thomas Knoell for their assistance in reframing the painting.

 

Accompanying Program

GUIDED TOURS "FIRST HAND"
Guided tours with Jan Schmidt (head conservator) and Bernd Ebert (head of the collection) on restoration and reframing
TUE 08. NOVEMBER 2022 | 6:30 pm-7.30 pm
WE 18. JANUARY 2023 | 6:30-7.30 pm

GUIDED TOURS
WE 02. NOVEMBER 2022 | 30. NOVEMBER 2022 | 11. JANUARY 2023 | 23. FEBRUARY | 6.30 pm-7.30 pm
FR 28. OCTOBER 2022 | 25. NOVEMBER 2022 | 16. DECEMBER 2022 | 30. DECEMBER 2022 | 27. JANUARY 2023 | 10. FEBRUARY 2023 | 3.00 pm-4.00 pm
SAT 01. OCTOBER 2022 | 07. JANUARY | 04. FEBRUARY | 4.00 pm-5.00 pm
JEDEN SO 11.00 am-12.00 noon

ART INFORMATION
EVERY SO 12.30 pm-2.30 pm

FAMILY TOURS
SO 23. OCTOBER 2022 | 06. NOVEMBER 2022 | 04. DECEMBER 2022 | 19. FEBRUARY 2023 | 12.00 noon-13.00 p.m.

The following applies to all tours: Participation free of charge | Limited number of places
Registration on site possible from 30 minutes before the start

LIVE CHAT
MO 03. OCTOBER 2022 | 02. JANUARY 2023 | 5.30 pm-6.30 pm
Registration under programm@pinakothek.de

WORKSHOPS

WE ARE FAMILY
Open family program
SO 02. OCTOBER 2022 | 20. NOVEMBER 2022 | 22. JANUARY 2023 | 05. FEBRUARY 2023 | 1.00 pm–5.00 pm
Participation free of charge | Entry possible at any time | No registration required

#Kunstminute - Bernd Ebert - Gerard van Honthorst - The Debauched Student