Work The Greens Market (or Vegetable Market) in Amsterdam
Department of Paintings: Dutch painting
The Vegetable Market in Amsterdam
© 2004 RMN / Franck Raux
The Vegetable Market was painted around 1660-61 at a moment when the art of Metsu - who was living in the area - was reaching its peak. Through this spirited representation of daily life, the painter makes a reference to a popular comic play, which explains the otherwise surprising presence of an impertinent valet disguised as a red buffoon. The painting's large size and its gentle, evocative rendition of the cityscape define it as one of Metsu's masterpieces.
A small open-air theater
This greens and vegetable market stood by the Prinsengracht canal in the very prosperous city of Amsterdam. Gabriel Metsu had been living near the canal since 1657 and was therefore able to observe the life of this little world attentively. The painter composed a true tableau vivant, strongly influenced by the theater of the time. Indeed, both the type of commerce represented and the very choice of vegetables depicted correspond quite precisely to a passage from the Het Moortje (1615), a farce by G. A. Bredero, which was very popular in this period. The foreground, where the main characters are placed, is brightly lit in a way that enhances the more vivid colors - red, green, and white - each one more brilliant than the other. This colorful animation contrasts with the muted brown tones of the background and with the peaceful cityscape structured by the regular rhythm and geometry of the façades.
The animated life of the market
The composition of this genre scene performed in the open air is quite entertaining. On the painting's left side, a shrew, her hands firmly planted on her hips, is hotly haggling over the quality or the price of vegetables. An agreeable, plump matronly woman stoically ignores her bickering with her head turned away as if to address the viewer. Two animals on the right of the composition seem to echo this dialogue, not without a dose of humor. Rooster and dog stand eyeing each other, while the precarious balance of the wicker basket lets one imagine the merry confusion of hairs and feathers to come. In the picture's center, as if isolated from the market's agitation, a little scene of flirtation unfolds. An ardent gallant, clad in the elegant costume of a Burgundian, is courting a sweet housewife who stands listening to him with shy restraint, though not without interest.
An exceptional painting in Metsu's repertoire
Both the bright and colorful tones and the clumsy rendition of certain relatively stiff characters standing in the background bring to mind the artist's Leyden period. The painting can therefore be dated to around 1660-61. Deftly combining realism in the representation of the market scene with theatrical references, this picture is exceptional in Metsu's repertoire. Of a relatively large size for this type of subject, it is the painter's masterpiece in which he expressed his full ambition as an artist, as well as demonstrating the importance of genre painting.
BibliographyLe Siècle de Rembrandt : tableaux hollandais des collections publiques françaises, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1970, p. 141-143.
Gabriel METSU (Leiden, 1629 - Amsterdam, 1667)
The Vegetable Market in Amsterdam
H. 0.97 m; W. 0.84 m
Collection of Louis XVI (acquired at the Blondel d'Azincourt sale, Paris, 1783)
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