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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Isaac van Ostade, Dutch (Haarlem, Netherlands 1621 - 1649 Haarlem, Netherlands)
Sheet of Studies with Six Figures
Work Type
c. 1643-1646
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Brown ink and gray wash over graphite and black chalk on cream antique laid paper, framing line in black ink and gold wash; verso: graphite tracing of two figures from upper left recto
18.6 x 18.7 cm (7 5/16 x 7 3/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: lower right, brown ink: AVO [in ligature] stad [cut off]
  • inscription: verso, lower center, graphite: eit-
  • watermark: Arms of Bern; related to Lindt 131 (House of Gruner, Zeender, and Koch, “Zu Thal” mill, Bern, 1640– 43)
  • collector's mark: verso, lower left, blue ink stamp: L. 3306 (Maida and George Abrams)


Recorded Ownership History
[Christie's, Amsterdam, 18 November 1985, lot 66, repr. pl. 32], sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1985 (L. 3306, verso, lower left); The Maida and George Abrams Collection, 1999.160.

Published Text

Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums
William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016)

Catalogue entry no. 65 by Susan Anderson:

An unidentified previous owner mistakenly inscribed this sheet with Adriaen van Ostade’s signature—a practice carried out on many drawings originating from within his immediate circle. Instead, the conception and execution of the figures, particularly the facial types, secure this sheet as the work of his brother, Isaac. When Bernhard Schnackenburg published his catalogue raisonné of Adriaen and Isaac van Ostade’s drawings in 1981, this sheet had not yet come to light. For the sale of 1985 in which it appeared, however, Schnackenburg authenticated this drawing based on a comparison with a similar sheet of studies in Hamburg that he dated to around 1643.1 The combination of individual and grouped figures, as well as the vigorous use of chalk underdrawing and jolly, caricatured faces, make this comparison especially apt. The group of four merry drinkers at the lower right finds further parallels with a compositional study of Six Peasants at a Table, Drinking, in an Interior, in the British Museum, London.2 Both include a kannekijker (a character looking into his beer mug), a man with a potato nose and dimpled grin, and more than one crooked nose drawn with one or two deft strokes.

As William W. Robinson has noted, the two figures of a fiddler and bagpiper that Isaac sketched at the upper left of our drawing appear in his painting of 1646 in the collection of the Duke of Sutherland (Fig. 1).3 In the drawing, the smaller figure drapes his bagpipes over his left arm, while the taller one holds his fiddle in his left hand against his partner’s back. In the painting, the two (without their instruments) walk toward the distance at the upper left next to the wagon wheel, away from the action of the village. The smaller boy’s gait is that seen in Isaac’s black chalk underdrawing, instead of the twisting posture found in his subsequent campaign of brown ink. That Isaac would elect to use his initial idea for the painting suggests that these study sheets acted as an exercise and reference tool for later works, to be consulted, quoted, and manipulated according to the aesthetic demands of the painting at hand.4

Isaac and Adriaen both created study sheets in ink and wash over graphite and black chalk, with several single or small groups of figures appearing on one sheet. Only a few fragmentary drawings of figures in pen and ink by Adriaen survive from before Isaac’s death in 1649.5 During Isaac’s lifetime, Adriaen remained partial to single-figure studies in rapidly applied black chalk on blue paper, reserving pen and ink for full compositional studies.6 Isaac, then, truly developed this type of drawing—multiple studies of figures or groups appearing together—in sheets such as this one, many of which now survive in fragments as small drawings, often overworked with brown wash. (The wash was probably applied by Cornelis Dusart after 1685.)7 Adriaen dabbled in pen-and-ink figures in Isaac’s manner over the course of the 1650s and 1660s, ultimately resulting in his small, refined, and often colored drawings of single figures from 1670 and later.8 This chronological development emphasizes Isaac’s contributions to peasant genre drawings, despite his short life and posthumous reputation in the shadow of his brother.


1 Bernhard Schnackenburg, Adriaen van Ostade, Isack van Ostade: Zeichnungen und Aquarelle (Hamburg, 1981), cat. 460; see also Annemarie Stefes, Niederländische Zeichnungen 1450–1850: Kupferstichkabinett der Hamburger Kunsthalle (Cologne, 2011), vol. 2, cat. 791, p. 431.

2 Isaac van Ostade, Six Peasants at a Table, Drinking, in an Interior, c. 1643. Brown ink, gray and brown wash, 128 × 171 mm. London, British Museum, 1895,0915.1245. See Schnackenburg, cat. 481.

3 Isaac van Ostade, Merrymakers in Front of a Tavern (Fig. 1), 1646. Oil on panel, 52.5 × 74.2 cm. Duke of Sutherland, Mertoun House, St. Boswells, Scottish Borders, Scotland. See HdG 18.

4 Schnackenburg, vol. 1, p. 55; William Robinson, Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet; Vienna: Albertina; New York: Pierpont Morgan Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 1991), cat. 89, pp. 196–97.

5 Schnackenburg, cats. 26, 42–44, and 61.

6 Ibid., cats. 1–66, especially nos. 45–47 and 62–66.

7 Ibid., especially cats. 432–41, 446–74, and 482–509.

8 Ibid., cats. 151–63, 188–93, and 293–389. Schnackenburg views some of Adriaen’s drawings of single figures from the 1650s and ’60s as fragments of larger sheets and others as independent drawings of single figures. Adriaen produced and refined these independent drawings through the 1670s; see idem, pp. 44–45.


Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
The Maida and George Abrams Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • William W. Robinson, Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., H. O. Zimman, Inc. (Lynn, MA, 1991), cat. no. 89, pp. 196-7, repr.
  • Anna Knaap, "From Lowlife to Rustic Idyll: The Peasant Genre in 17th-Century Dutch Drawings and Prints", Harvard University Art Museums Bulletin, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1996), vol. IV, no. 2, pp. 31-59, cat. no. 51, p. 58
  • William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), cat. no. 65, pp. 222-224, repr. p. 223; watermark p. 379

Exhibition History

  • Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, Rijksprentenkabinet, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 02/23/1991 - 04/18/1991; Albertina Gallery, Vienna, 05/16/1991 - 06/30/1991; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 01/22/1992 - 04/22/1992; Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 10/10/1992 - 12/06/1992
  • From Lowlife to Rustic Idyll: The Peasant Genre in 17th-Century Dutch Drawings and Prints, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/29/1997 - 06/22/1997

Subjects and Contexts

  • Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

Verification Level

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