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Adriaen Brouwer - The bitter drink

by Thyra Guenther-Lübbers

This half-figure painting of a young man in profile, executed with very rough brushwork, occupies the entire foreground of the rather small-format painting. The background is kept simple in a color mixture of beige and gray, which does not really create a spatiality. The fact that the model is depicted only up to the chest, inevitably directs the focus of the viewer to the face of the man, which he contorts into a fabulous grimace. This is not surprising if one recalls the title of the work. 

The depicted man has probably taken a sip from the drinking bowl in his left hand shortly before, in which a yellow liquid is still visible to the viewer. The small bottle in his left hand therefore seems to contain an extremely unpalatable potion, possibly even medicine. Unfortunately, we do not receive any information about this, possibly about an inscription on the bottle.

Obviously, however, this work deals with taste. In doing so, however, Brouwer proceeds in a rather untypical manner for his time. Traditionally, taste was expressed allegorically through tasty food in pictures. The fact that an everyday scene, namely that of taking medicine, is depicted here in such a prominent way, as well as the young man's clothing, which suggests an occupation as a farmer or simple laborer, allow us to attribute the work to the genre genre.

Adriaen Brouwer - The bitter drink

Oil on oak, ca.1636-1638, 47,4 x 35,5 cm, Städel Museum in Frankfurt


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