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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Philip Larkin / Adriaen Brouwer: The Card-Players


The Card Players: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), c. 1630s, oil on panel, 25 x 39 cm (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp)

Jan van Hogspuew staggers to the door
And pisses at the dark. Outside, the rain
Courses in cart-ruts down the deep mud lane.
Inside, Dirk Dogstoerd pours himself some more,
And holds a cinder to his clay with tongs,
Belching out smoke. Old Prijck snores with the gale,
His skull face firelit; someone behind drinks ale,
And opens mussels, and croaks scraps of songs
Towards the ham-hung rafters about love.
Dirk deals the cards. Wet century-wide trees
Clash in surrounding starlessness above
This lamplit cave, where Jan turns back and farts,
Gobs at the grate, and hits the queen of hearts.

Rain, wind and fire! The secret, bestial peace!

Philip Larkin: The Card-Players, 6 May 1970, from High Windows (1974)

File:Adriaen Brouwer 006.jpg

Card Playing Peasants in the Tavern: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), c. 1630s, oil on panel, 33 x 43 cm (Alte Pinakothek, Munich)

Brawling Peasants in the Tavern: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), c. 1630s, oak, 26.5 x 32.5 cm (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)

Peasants Fighting: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), 1631-1635, oil on wood, 33 x 49 cm (Alte Pinakothek, Munich)

Peasants Smoking and Drinking
: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), c. 1635, oil on panel, 35 x 26 cm (Alte Pinakothek, Munich)

The Bitter Draught: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), c. 1635, oil on oak, 26.5 x 32.5 cm (Städelsche Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt)

Drunken Peasant in a Tavern: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638),c. 1624, oil on panel, 35 x 26 cm (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam)

Peasants of Moerdyck: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), 1628-1630, oil on panel, 31 x 20 cm (Private collection)

Interior of a Smoking Room: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), 1630-1632, oil on wood, 22 x 29 cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Smoking Men
: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), c. 1636, oil on wood, 46 x 36,5 cm (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

In the Tavern: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), c. 1630s, oil on wood, 36 x 27 cm (Alte Pinakothek, Munich)

Seated Drinkers: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), c. 1630s, oil on oak, 25.5 x 21 cm  (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels)

Village Scene with Men Drinking: Adriaen Brouwer (1606?-1638), 1631-1635, oil on panel, 63 x 96 cm (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)

The short-lived Flemish genre painter Adriaen Brouwer was probably born under the name Adriaen de Brauwer in Oudenaarde. He seems to have moved about 1621 via Antwerp to Haarlem, where he studied under Frans Hals while also trying his luck at stage-acting and poetry. He worked for the next ten years in Haarlem and Amsterdam. Returning to Antwerp in the Spanish-ruled south Netherlands in 1931, he was arrested as a spy by the Spanish and imprisoned until 1633.  He then spent the last years of his life in Antwerp. His specialty, for which in his day he was much imitated (and copied by forgers) in Flanders and Holland, was low-life tavern scenes -- plainly observed from life and probably not from such a great distance at that. (The central foreground figure blowing smoke rings in Smoking Men, fourth painting from the bottom here, is thought to be the painter himself, and several of the surrounding figures in the composition have been taken to represent his fellow artists of Antwerp.) Not entirely unlike the figures in his tavern scenes, Brouwer would seem to have enjoyed living to the full limits of his means; he left behind him a trail of debt and financial trouble.




Thanks for this glimpse of the tavern world of Antwerp according to Adriaen Brouwer. A lively scene it seems -- what might someone endowed with his gifts made of the world of Smileys 'back in the day'?


light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, bird slanting toward pine branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

here however, in the second
place makes it appear

as that, in addition, which
first term right side

cloudless blue sky reflected in channel,
sunlit green shoulder of ridge above it

TC said...


He would certainly have felt right at home in that circumstance.

There was the wonderful legend of the proof of a certain great American poet's immortal serendipity -- how, on a typical Dutch-interior-by-the-north Pacific night, lying in the gutter outside Smiley's, he rolled over just in time to avoid the crushing boot of the biker with the pool cue whom he'd insulted only moments before and who now intended to stomp him to death. The biker of course broke his foot.

And speaking of notoriety, legend and poetry, hats off to you and thank you very much for Selected Days, which appeared as if by miracle upon our doorstep at dawn. (Few who climb those broken steps live to tell it.)

larry white said...

Great to see such a range of Brouwer's work, however limited his subjects may appear. Larkin has caught beautifully "the secret, bestial peace" that the top picture limns. And then "the rain
courses in cart-ruts down the deep mud lane."
"Wet century-wide trees
Clash in surrounding starlessness above
This lamplit cave"

TC said...


The idea for this post came along when I happened to be stranded with my one-earplug walkman in a lonely situation late and night with nowhere to hide from a not very amusing talkradio discussion.

The topic was the wisdom, or lack of same, in obliterating Iran -- just for starters, and then going on to take out the rest of the Islamic Annoyances, drone hit by drone hit.

It was hard not to recognize in this appalling "strategy" discussion over the nocturnal airwaves a cultural/evolutionary regression to primal traits which one had thought to have vanished long ago.

It appears a resurgent atavism lives and walks amongst us, much as an unappeased zombie.

In Brouwer's time this sort of pre-intellectual behaviour was at least never disguised as thought, and was in any case safely quarantined to men's smoky drinking caves.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

What a riot in the war room full of "cards"-- all this not-so-funny atavism droning on and on.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

So much life in the tavern! Dash here shadow there.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Las Vegas

In Reno your friends come and go.
At least it snowed.
She told me to stop turning around
on the bar stool
it made her sea sick
I had to stop.
I got my warts frozen off.
All the grocery stores
were filled with slots.
A pond with swans the city park.
A man who said he had known Elvis
swam across the pool
but near the bottom.

Once we jumped in
our feet-- he lived. Apartment
by the airport. Near the mall.
Leslie Brown with a whole wall
gold-veined mirror tiles.
Gene Gischu making Basque stew.
Mom at the casino.
Karen Uliberri and her yogurt.
Seventh grade was never boring
drunk every day after school.



Pray tell (on the back channel perhaps) who might that great poet have been. Good to hear Days has arrived, maybe delivery boy is lying in the bushes somewhere?

Wooden Boy said...

Larkin's words and brouwer's faces are a little too familiar.
The pleasure in the grotesque: the body's machinery at unthinking ease. That's a good thing, once in a while. What those mindless types on the talkshows have been told to want... Primal is too good a word for that.

TC said...


Some nights on the seas of talk it's one big good-ol-boys war room.


Karen Uliberri ought to have started her own outfit. Uliberri Yogurt, All Natural. Blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, huckleberry and cranberry flavour specialties.


Well as no actual crime or even extraordinary (for the period) indiscretion is involved, I don't see any harm in revealing the initials of the serendipitous Smiley's survivor as RC.

TC said...


The white nights tend to run together after a while, but I believe it was passing a crowded downtown watering hole on Saturday night (immediately preceding the aforementioned bleak talkshow epiphany), and looking in through the steamed windows at a legion of drunk collegians, that prompted this whole plunge into nescience.

Questions continue to linger here as to whether it was really such a good idea to come down out of the trees in the first place.

Hazen said...

Homo allegedly sapiens, drunk or sober: what’s the differential? Larkin’s a hoot. And I’ve always liked the Low Country schools of painting; maybe it’s the warm glow I find there, the world viewed as if through a glass of beer. Thanks, I needed this.