In this late work, which probably dates from about 1670, Steen wittily blends a variety of established symbols and themes—child rearing, the dissolute household, and the Garden of Love—into an original creation. The picture's style is eclectic, though well organized. A barmaid or hostess poses provocatively and is surrounded by a cast of characters symmetrically arranged. Although united in spirit, they represent three or four generations and at least two levels of reality, with the women in various manner of contemporary dress and most of the men in slit sleeves, outdated collars, and other costume details familiar from the commedia dell'arte. The setting, too, suggests both the theatre and modern life: the figure group is presented frontally in a shallow space, but the impressive pergola, lush garden, and classical architecture bring to mind the garden terraces that form the setting for other genre scenes.
Steen made sly use of conventions that were more familiar in his time than in later centuries. The overdressed boy in the foreground irreverently recalls Dutch portraits of children in which a trained or tethered animal suggests proper upbringing. Dogs and horses are among the most frequent attributes. Here, however, the boy is obnoxious, the horse is just a toy, and the dog seems less obedient than annoyed. The trio serves as a marginal note on the adults' behavior, a new twist on the proverb often illustrated by Steen and Jacob Jordaens (1593–1678), the Flemish painter of similar festivities: "As the old sing, so pipe the young."
The humor is amplified by the artist having cast himself in the role of innkeeper, the portly man wearing an apron who seems to laugh with the viewer. It has been suggested that the young woman in the center was modeled on Steen's second wife, Maria van Egmond, but portraits of her are unknown, and the painting may pre-date their marriage in 1673. The innkeeping couple's relationship is characterized by sexual innuendos such as the man's jug and the woman's empty glass, her pearls and roses (symbols of Venus), and her boudoir disarray. The friendly way she leans on the young musician, playing a suggestively shaped and positioned cittern, is typical of body language in works by Steen.
In the background, the comic figure of Hans Wurst (who appears as a central character in Frans Hals's Merrymakers at Shrovetide in The Met, 14.40.605) tantalizes a waitress. She is also entertained by a flutist with his famously phallic instrument. The unusual architectural motifs in the left background have been inserted as a critical commentary: the sphere is a symbol of Fortuna (fate or instability), the broken column behind it a symbol of mortality. In the right foreground, the tankard and pot of coals (for lighting pipes like the one on the balustrade) underscore the theme of intemperance and serve also to draw attention to the artist's signature. The drooping hollyhocks in the cachepot remind one that sensual pleasures pass swiftly away. And the owl overhead stands for folly, not wisdom, as it generally does when perched in a tavern or in any setting where the atmosphere of a "Jan Steen household" prevails.
[2011; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed (lower right): JSteen [initials in monogram]
Gerrit Schimmelpenninck, Amsterdam (his estate sale, Roos, Amsterdam, July 12, 1819, no. 112, for fl. 2499 to Brondgeest); ?Watkins, ?London (in 1854; for sale); David P. Sellar, London (by 1888–94; his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, June 6, 1889, no. 70, as "Les Joyeux convives," bought in; sale, Christie's, London, March 17, 1894, no. 123, as "A Merry-Making," for £567 to Colnaghi); [Martin Colnaghi, London, from 1894]; P. A. B. Widener, Ashbourne, later Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, near Philadelphia (by 1900–d. 1915; cats., 1885–1900, vol. 2, no. 256; 1913, no. 44); his son, Joseph E. Widener, Lynnewood Hall (1915–at least 1925); [Gebr. Douwes Fine Art, Amsterdam, by 1927–28]; A. J. M. Goudriaan, Rotterdam (1928–at least 1937; on loan to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; cat., 1937, no. 431); Mrs. J. M. A. Roosenburg-Goudriaan, ?Rotterdam (by 1951; on loan to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; cat., 1951, p. 89; sent to the U.S.A. in 1958); [Schaeffer Galleries, New York, 1958; sold to MMA]
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1888, no. 55 (as "A Merry-Making," lent by David Sellar).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Hudson-Fulton Celebration," September–November 1909, no. 127 (as "The Merrymakers," lent by Mr. P. A. B. Widener, Philadelphia).
Rome. Galleria Borghese. "Mostra di capolavori della pittura olandese," February 25–April 18, 1928, no. 112 (as "La festa sulla terrazza," lent by Fratelli Douwes, Amsterdam).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450–1900," January 4–March 9, 1929, no. 374 (as "A Festive Company in Autumn," lent by A. J. M. Goudriaan).
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 47).
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "Jan Steen: Painter and Storyteller," April 28–August 18, 1996, no. 48.
Amsterdam. Rijksmuseum. "Jan Steen: Painter and Storyteller," September 21, 1996–January 12, 1997, no. 48.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Frans Hals in the Metropolitan Museum," July 26–October 10, 2011, no catalogue.
Haarlem. Frans Halsmuseum. "Celebrating in the Golden Age," November 11, 2011–May 6, 2012, no. 28 [withdrawn early].
John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 4, London, 1833, p. 35, no. 109, as sold for fl. 2,499 at the Schimmelpenninck sale of 1819.
J[ohannes]. Immerzeel Jr. De levens en werken der Hollandsche en Vlaamsche kunstschilders, beeldhouwers, graveurs en bouwmeesters. Vol. 3, Amsterdam, 1843, p. 111.
T[obias]. van Westrheene. Jan Steen: étude sur l'art en Hollande. The Hague, 1856, p. 153, no. 296, as present whereabouts unknown.
Catalogue of Paintings Forming the Private Collection of P. A. B. Widener, Ashbourne, near Philadelphia. [Paris], 1885–1900, vol. 2, p. 256, no. 256, ill. on facing page [continuously paginated and numbered from vol. 1], as "The Merrymakers".
C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 1, London, 1907, p. 116, no. 443, gives provenance information.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration: Catalogue of an Exhibition Held in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1909, vol. 1, p. 128, no. 127, ill. opp. p. 128, as "The Merrymakers," lent by Mr. P. A. B. Widener, Philadelphia.
William Bode. "More Spurious Pictures Abroad Than in America." New York Times (December 31, 1911), p. SM4.
C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot and Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Pictures in the Collection of P. A. B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early German, Dutch & Flemish Schools. Philadelphia, 1913, unpaginated, no. 44, ill., as "The Merrymakers".
Frederick Antal. "Concerning some Jan Steen Pictures in America." Art in America 13 (April 1925), p. 116, fig. 6, as "The Jesters," in the collection of Joseph E. Widener, Philadelphia.
D. Hannema. "Tentoonstelling." Verslag van het museum Boijmans te Rotterdam (1928), p. 9, as on long term loan from A. J. M. Goudriaan; dates it about 1674.
E[duard]. Trautscholdt inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 31, Leipzig, 1937, p. 512, as on loan to the Boijmans Museum from Goudriaan, and as formerly with Douwes Brothers, Amsterdam.
Beknopte catalogus schilderijen en beeldhouwwerken. Rotterdam, 1937, p. 48, no. 431, as "Het tuinfeest," on loan from A. J. M. Goudriaan; identifies the central female figure as the artist's first wife, Margaretha van Goyen [d. 1669].
Gids: Schilderkunst & Beeldhouwkunst. Rotterdam, 1951, p. 89, no. 431, as on loan from Mrs. J. M. A. Roosenburg-Goudriaan.
Margaretta M. Salinger. "Jan Steen's Merry Company." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 17 (January 1959), pp. 124–31, ill. inside front cover (color) and pp. 124, 125, 126, 127, 129, 130, 131 (details), dates it after 1669; identifies the seated figure at far left as the artist himself, and suggests that other figures may also represent family members.
Malcolm Vaughan. "The Connoisseur in America." Connoisseur 143 (June 1959), p. 274, ill.
A. B. de Vries. "Jan Steen: The Profundity of Pranks." Art News 58 (March 1959), p. 31, ill. (color), dates it about 1670–79.
Oliver T. Banks. Watteau and the North: Studies in the Dutch and Flemish Baroque Influence on French Rococo Painting. PhD diss., Princeton University. New York, 1977, pp. 193, fig. 139, dates it probably mid-1660s.
Karel Braun. Alle tot nu toe bekende schilderijen van Jan Steen. Rotterdam, 1980, p. 142, no. 374, ill. pp. 143 (overall), 9, and 14 (details), dates it 1677–79; identifies four figures with members of Steen's family; considers parts of the picture may be by one of the artist's sons.
Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, pp. 186–87.
Walter Liedtke. "Dutch Paintings in America: The Collectors and Their Ideals." Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1990, p. 55.
H. Perry Chapman. "Persona and Myth in Houbraken's Life of Jan Steen." Art Bulletin 75 (March 1993), p. 143, fig. 7.
Walter A. Liedtke inThe Taft Museum: Its History and Collections. Vol. 1, European and American Paintings. New York, 1995, p. 171 n. 8.
H. Perry Chapman et al. inJan Steen: Painter and Storyteller. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1996, pp. 11–12, 19–20, 61, 113, 166, 235, 253–56, 259, no. 48, ill. (color), date it about 1673–75.
Harry Berger Jr. Manhood, Marriage, & Mischief: Rembrandt's "Night Watch" and other Dutch Group Portraits. New York, 2007, p. 35, fig. 6.
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), p. 37, fig. 43 (color).
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, p. 254; vol. 2, pp. 844–47, no. 197, colorpl. 197, states that it probably dates from about 1670.
Jasper Hillegers inCelebrating in the Golden Age. Ed. Anna Tummers. Exh. cat., Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem. Rotterdam, 2011, pp. 114–15, no. 28, ill. (color).
Anna Tummers inCelebrating in the Golden Age. Ed. Anna Tummers. Exh. cat., Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem. Rotterdam, 2011, p. 17.
Thijs Weststeijn inCelebrating in the Golden Age. Ed. Anna Tummers. Exh. cat., Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem. Rotterdam, 2011, pp. 24–25, ill. (color detail).
Engraved by R. de Los Rios in the Sellar sale catalogue of 1889.