Special Exchange Brings Bruegel Masterpiece to the Netherlands

Pieter Bruegel, Bauer und Vogeldieb, 1568. Panel, 59,3 x 68,3 cm. Collection Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Press release

Special Exchange Brings Bruegel Masterpiece to the Netherlands
20 May 2015

The panel ‘The Peasant and the Nest Robber’ (1568) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder can be seen in Rotterdam from this October. The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has never loaned this centuries-old work of art before, but it is making an exception as part of a special exchange. In the autumn this painting will star alongside many other old masterpieces in ‘The Discovery of Everyday Life: From Bosch to Bruegel’.

This autumn, together with ‘The Peasant Feast’ (1550) by Pieter Aertsen and ‘The Slaughtered Ox’ (1566) by Marten van Cleve, Bruegel’s fragile panel will travel to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. In 2018 ‘our’ Bruegel masterpiece, ‘The Tower of Babel’, and two of his rare drawings will be going to Vienna for a major retrospective. This exchange, for which the two museums have been preparing for years, has made possible the special exhibition at Boijmans spotlighting the pioneers of genre art. Prior to 1500 painting was the sole preserve of the church; the only exceptions were portraits of dignitaries. Artists really only discovered everyday life in the sixteenth century: Aertsen was one of the first to paint peasants. Van Cleve painted a slaughterhouse and Bruegel began by painting the ‘ordinary’ Flemish landscape. In so doing they started a tradition that continues to this day. Van Cleve’s ox was the forerunner of similar paintings by Rembrandt. ‘In aesthetic terms, Bruegel’s paintings belong in the highest category in Western art history and so we are absolutely delighted to be able to show them to the public in Rotterdam,’ said curators Friso Lammertse and Peter van der Coelen.

Pieter Bruegel painted ‘The Peasant and the Nest Robber’ at the end of his life. The work, measuring almost 60 centimetres by 70, is perhaps the most monumental composition he
made. A laughing peasant walks towards the viewer, pointing to the reckless nest robber who is in danger of falling out of the tree. This malicious delight prevents him from noticing that he himself is just about to walk into a ditch. Bruegel’s contemporaries viewed this joke with great amusement. The artist has depicted a sixteenth-century proverb: ‘He who knows where the nest is has the knowledge; he who robs has the nest’. 

From Whores and Peasants to Beggars and Quacks
‘The Discovery of Daily Life: From Bosch to Bruegel’, which runs from 10 October 2015 to 17 January 2016, focuses on the world of brothels, orgies of feasting, beggars and quacks. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen will be exhibiting a top-flight selection of ‘politically
incorrect’ paintings and prints from the sixteenth century. Some forty paintings and a similar number of prints from the world’s most prominent museum and private collections will be coming to Rotterdam. Alongside work by Jheronimus Bosch, Lucas van Leyden and Quinten Massys – the pioneers of genre painting – the museum will show works by such artists as Jan Sanders van Hemessen, Marinus van Reymerswaele, Jan Provoost, Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer. A number of pictures of peasants, merrymakers and musicians by Pieter Bruegel the Elder close the exhibition and this period of pioneers.