oil on panel
22 3/4 in. x 29 1/16 in. (57.79 cm x 73.82 cm)
Gift of David Giles Carter and Museum Purchase,
Jan Miense Molenaer
In a modest interior, merrymakers sit gathered around a table, drinking and playing cards. A young woman stands behind one of the cardplayers, holding a mirror so that his opponent may see his hand. Meanwhile, a boy at left lifts a duck from the basket on the floor, likely stealing from the same duped man so absorbed in his cards that he is oblivious to the bad behavior going on around him. In the foreground sits a broadly smiling young man, whose sword and neck-plate, or gorget, indicate that he is a soldier. These lively figures are painted with a high level of detail, visible in the sparkling gold trim of the soldier’s costume and the veins on the hand of the older man. Despite this finesse in handling, individual brushmarks remain visible. White, red, blue, and yellow strokes make up the flesh tones of the figures, creating complex layers of color.
Context and Analysis
This painting by Jan Miense Molenaer features characters common in works by Dutch artists of the 1600s. Viewers at that time would have recognized the older man as a foolish and easily tricked peasant; they would have seen the soldier in the foreground as a cavalier type known for foppish dress and drunken revelry. They might also have been familiar with a Dutch proverb of the day: “You cannot make a peasant believe how a soldier earns his money.” By portraying these irresolute folks engaging with one another in slightly chaotic circumstances, Molenaer warned against the danger of games and gambling, even as he appealed to his viewers’ sense of humor. This painting would have delighted residents of the Dutch cities Haarlem and Amsterdam, where Molenaer worked and sold his paintings. Many urban dwellers were concerned with social standing and propriety; viewing a scene of folly and unscrupulous conduct allowed them to observe such misbehavior from a safe distance. Yet Molenaer intensified his viewers’ engagement with the scene by aligning the gaze of the soldier with that of the viewer. Not only does he draw us into the rowdy mischief, but we also enjoy an advantage over even the cheating cardplayer, as only we are able see all of the cards in the game. Through this clever arrangement, Molenaer’s picture cautions us against the dangers of morally questionable activities, even as it encourages us to relish our vicarious participation in them.
The objects depicted in this painting, such as the glasses, pewter pitcher, and ceramic jug, were of the type brought to America by European settlers, many of whom originated in the Netherlands. In the 1700s and 1800s, such objects were made in New England. Visiting the Currier’s galleries of decorative arts, viewers may see items such as the pewter pitcher by George Richardson (Currier, 1980.62.5
), as well as the Currier’s collection of historic glass, much of which would have been of a sort familiar alike to Molenaer’s drinkers and their American descendants.
Written by Elizabeth A. Nogrady
Weller, Dennis P. Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age
. Exh. cat. Raleigh: North Carolina Museum of Art, 2002.
Welu, James A., and Pieter Biesboer. Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master and Her World
. Exh. cat. Worcester: Worcester Art Museum; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.
1993 Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA, "Judith Leyster: A Dutch Master of the Golden Age." Sept. 18 - Dec. 5.
2002-2003 "Jan Miense Molenaer: A Painter of the Dutch Golden Age." Organized by North Carolina Museum of Art. Traveled to: North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC, Oct. 13, 2002 - Jan. 5, 2003; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN, Jan. 25 - April 16, 2003; Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH, April 4 - June 16, 2003.
2010-2011 Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH, "The Secret Life of Art: Mysteries of the Museum Revealed." Oct. 2, 2010 – Jan. 9, 2011.
Alfred Brod Limited, London, England
Purchased by David Giles Carter, October 26, 1961
Gift and Purchased by Currier Gallery of Art, 2001