“The King drinks” was a traditional cry used on Epiphany inviting the king or the queen of the day, according to custom, to empty their glass. This joyful, festive theme was particularly popular in 17th century Flanders and led to the creation of spin-offs.

The Smokers, also entitled The Drinking Song, was one of them. Sitting on a stool, the central figure is lifting his pipe in one hand and a glass of beer in the other. His wide open mouth indicates that he is singing loudly. Although the context of this scene is not that of the celebration of the king, there is clearly drinking and singing going on.

The influence of Adriaen Brouwer (The Smokers, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art) is evident here both in the composition of the scene and the treatment of the figure in the background, who has been rapidly outlined. David II Teniers borrowed the figure of the smoker with his mouth open from him, and reused it several times.

The distortion of the face due to alcohol, tobacco and singing adds a picturesque touch to the scene and gives it a moralising and comic aspect which made the painting a success, and there are numerous versions, replicas and copies of it (David II Teniers, Scene at an Inn, Prague, National Gallery).

A. R.

 

City of Paris municipal collection's website

City of Paris municipal collection's website

The online catalogue of the Petit Palais collections includes around 35,000 notes and is added to regularly. Some notes have minimal information; others are more detailed. They are illustrated or they will be shortly.

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