The Bitter Potion, ca. 1636–38

Anecdotal genre scenes of robust content were especially popular in the Netherlands. The more prosperous city dwellers used them to decorate their well-ordered parlours. An artist active primarily in Antwerp, Adriaen Brouwer specialised in the depiction of the peasant and tavern milieus, in which he attained a mastery appreciated even by his famous colleague Peter Paul Rubens.

Whereas the members of the bourgeoisie themselves emulated the self-control exercised by the nobility, they delighted in the unchecked emotions and coarse customs of the simple folk. Here as well, the concern is with just such an undisguised expression of feeling: the potion is obviously utterly repulsive to the taste. His eyes shut tight, his mouth wide open – we can almost hear the uncouth curse this fellow is blurting out. In earlier depictions of the five senses, taste had always been pictorialised with exquisite, fine-tasting foods. Here, however, Brouwer makes the bitterness visible with the powerful reaction in the peasant’s face, the loose, sketchy brushstroke further enhancing the effect.

47.4 × 35.5 cm
Inv. No. 1076