Peasants in an Interior [Tobacco Inn]
Brouwer was a genre painter originally from Flanders who studied with Frans Hals in Haarlem. He was active first in Amsterdam and after 1631 in Antwerp. His life was plagued by debt, and personal engagement in the sort of tavern life depicted in many of his pictures may have contributed to his early death. His pictures, which are small in scale, were highly prized by contemporaries (including Rembrandt and Rubens) for their acutely observed facial expressions and objectivity. He depicted country people with a sardonic rather than humorous eye. His works were frequently copied and imitated.
This rough, ramshackle tavern interior contains standard elements found in Brouwer’s paintings on the “Tobacco Inn” theme. Tobacco in the seventeenth century was a much stronger substance than modern pipe tobacco as it was laced with hemp (in the cannabis family) and produced stupor and internal visionary experience. Three men in the center are clustered around an overturned barrel table. One is filling his pipe from a bowl; the man behind him having smoked deeply from the pipe in his hands is rolling his eyes and looking up towards the rafters while to the right an old man holds a beer stein and lifts a wine glass in his other hand. Neither of the smokers interacts with anyone else, their isolation typical of Brouwer’s smoker pictures. An upside down ceramic pot is seen under the bench; a large wooden basin fills the left foreground; a burning brand lies on the floor on the right (which was used to light the pipes). The less well defined background includes a man leaning against a wall pissing, a shelf on the back wall with vessels, a projecting wooden doorway with a man crouching in it seen from behind.
Peasants in an Interior [Tobacco Inn] may be an early work done in Amsterdam as it has the bright colors he later abandoned. Here light and color are concentrated in the two smokers while the rest of the picture is subdued in tonality and dimly lit. The painting is unsigned and his works are never dated. The rather large areas of bright color in this painting may indicate that it is an early work as his later paintings are marked by a dull and dark tonality like The Smokers in the Metropolitan Museum.