Tavern Scene

Jan Steen

Escena en taberna

Steen, Jan

Leiden, 1626 - 1679

Tavern Scene, c. 1661-1665

© Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza

Signed lower right: ''JSteen'' ( ''J'' and ''S'' in monograms)
Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection
Location: Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, Madrid

Oil on canvas

44,3 x 36,8 cm


Artwork history

  • Edward R. Bacon (probably among the property in his mansion in Scotland); died in 1915.

  • Inherited by his sister-in-law, Virginia Purdy Bacon, Netherdale House, Turriff (Aberdeenshire). Died in 1919.

  • Christie´s, lot 102, London, December 12th, 1919. (2,000 guineas).

  • Lewis and Simmons, London.

  • Louis Miéville, Paris, c. 1922.

  • Christie´s, lot 95, London, March 31st, 1922. (1,020 guineas).

  • A. H. Buttery, London.

  • A. Tooth, London, c. 1927.

  • W. J. Holt, London, c. 1928. (died in 1932).

  • Paul Bottenwieser, Berlin, 1928.

  • W. E. Duits Galeries, London, 1945.

  • Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Lugano, 1957.

  • Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection


Dutch and Flemish Art, Nottingham, Central YMCA, p. 5, illus. XI.


Dutch Old Masters, Bristol, Red Lodge, nº 22.


Exhibition of Old Masters, Eastbourne, Towner Art Gallery, nº 26, pp. 12, 15.

1959 - 1960

Collectie Thyssen-Bornemisza / Sammlung Thyssen-Bornemisza, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; Essen, Museum Folkwang, nº 95.


Shedevrui Zapadnoevropeiskoi Zhivopisi XVI-XVII vv. iz Sobraniya Thyssen-Bornemisza, Novosibirsk, Picture Gallery, nº 28, pp. 66-67.

1999 - 2000

Naturalezas pintadas de Brueghel a Van Gogh. Pintura naturalista en la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, nº 13, pp. 64-67.


De Van Goyen a Constable. Aspectos da tradición do pintoresco na Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Corunna, Museo de Belas Artes da Coruña, nº 20, pp. 90-92.


De Van Dyck a Goya. Maestros Antiguos de la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Castellón, Museo de Bellas Artes, nº 19, pp. 80-82.

  • -In Thieme, U. and Becker, F (eds.): Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. 37 vols. Leipzig, Engelmann-Seemann, 1907-1950, vol. 31, nº 725D, p. 513.

  • -Townsend, J. and Stanton Howard, W.: Memorial Catalogue of Paintings by Old and Modern Masters collected by Edward R. Bacon. New York, 1919, nº 201, p. 158.

  • -Sorrell, M.: ”London Notes’‘. In Apollo. 1954. vol. 60, p. 102, illus.

  • -Heinemann, Rudolf J.: Sammlung Schloss Rohoncz. Castagnola-Lugano, Stiftung Sammlung Schloss Rohoncz, 1958, nº 396a, p. 100.

  • -Collectie Thyssen-Bornemisza (Schloss Rohoncz): 110 meesterwerken Europese schilderkunst van de XIVe-XVIIIe eeuw: November 14th, 1959 – January 3rd, 1960. [Exhib. cat.]. Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, 1959, nº 95, illus. 87.

  • -Heinemann, Rudolf J. (ed.): The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. Ebbinge-Wubben, Johann; Salm, Christian and Sterling, Charles. Lugano-Castagnola, Villa Favorita, 1969 [German edition 1971], vol. 1, nº 289, p. 315, illus.; vol. 2, illus. 157.

  • -Braun, K.: Alle tot nu toe bekende schilderijen van Jan Steen. Rotterdam, 1980, nº 196, p. 114, illus. pp. 8 (detail), 115.

  • -Borghero, Gertrude: Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: catalogue of the exhibited works of art. Lugano-Castagnola, Villa Favorita, 1981, nº 289, p. 294, illus.

  • -Borghero, Gertrude: Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, catalogue raisonné of the exhibited works of art. Lugano, The Collection – Milan, Electa International, 1986, nº 289, p. 297, illus.

  • -Watteville, Caroline de: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. Guide to the Exhibited Works. Lugano – Milan, Electa, 1989, p. 306, illus.

  • -Gaskell, Ivan: Seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish Painting: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. London, Sotheby’s, 1990, nº 55, pp. 252-255, illus.

  • -Naturalezas pintadas de Brueghel a Van Gogh. Pintura naturalista en la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza [Exhib. Cat. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid], 1999, n. 13, pp. 64-67.

  • -De Van Goyen a Constable. Aspectos da tradición do pintoresco na Colección Carmen Thyssen- Bornemisza, La Coruña, Museo de Belas Artes da Coruña [Exhib. Cat. Museo de Belas Artes da Coruña], 2000, n. 20, pp. 90-92

  • -De Van Dyck a Goya. Maestros Antiguos de la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Castellón, Museo de Bellas Artes [Exhib. Cat. Museo de Bellas Artes, Castellón], 2001, n. 19, pp. 80-82.

  • -Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. Arnaldo, Javier (ed.). 2 vols. Madrid, Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, 2004, vol. 1, p. 120, illus. p. 121 [ Sheet by Ivan Gaskell].

  • -Borobia, Mar and Alarcó, Paloma (eds.): Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Obras escogidas. Madrid, Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, 2011, p. 114, illus. p. 115.

Expert report

There has been considerable confusion concerning the identification of this work in terms of both provenance and subject. It is not mentioned in the published edition of Hofstede de Groot’s catalogue, although a work resembling it does occur in his annotated working copy in The Hague. The painting mentioned there, said to be on panel, has notably smaller dimensions than those of the present work, and conforms with the description of a painting sold anonymously in Amsterdam in 1907 regularly confused in provenances with the present canvas. Since the present work, even in its cropped state, is larger than the panel it is unlikely to be the same painting transferred to a canvas support. It is more likely that there are two versions, the panel remaining untraced. Consequently some of the references in the provenance above may be to the version on panel rather than to the present work. Furthermore, the present canvas has frequently been confused in published provenances with Steen’s The Doctor’s Visit in Philadelphia. In consequence it was incongruously described when with Duits by the same title, The Doctor’s Visit.

Prior to 1945 the canvas was described correctly as a tavern interior. An explanation of the subject was tentatively offered in the exhibition catalogues of 1959-1960. Many of Steen’s works are based on dramatic, proverbial or folktale stereotypes concerning the comedy of love and its associated follies. This canvas appears to depict a variation of the story of the pregnant woman who is presented as a suitable marriage partner to a gullible elderly man by her crafty young lover acting as pander. The intended victim, lighting his pipe, wears an anachronistic costume similar to that worn by the stock character of the aged lover in other paintings by Steen. This figure is related to the character of Pantalone from the Commedia dell’Arte, whose performances, as Gudlaugsson has demonstrated, were a constant source of visual inspiration for Steen. To emphasise the point, which the elderly man’s detachment might otherwise seem to undermine, the pander wears a paternity bonnet, the special hat worn by a father only during and after a confinement. The cuckolded “father” wears the same headgear in Steen’s Christening Feast in the Wallace Collection. The young man in the present work is depicted with particularly pointed facial features which, it has been suggested, may allude to the Dutch proverb “Een spitse neus en spitse kin, daar zit sinjeur de duivel in” (a pointed nose and a pointed chin, Monsieur the devil sits within). In this respect he can be compared with procuresses in several of Steen’s brothel scenes, such as Easy Come, Easy Go, in Rotterdam. Behind the main trio stands a broadly smiling man holding a glass who is depicted with the painter’s own features. Steen regularly included in his works such a figure, whose humorous gaze usually meets that of the spectator and serves as an implicit commentator on or presenter of the scene. Examination by means of infra-red reflectography reveals that the girl’s head was originally depicted directing her gaze towards this standing man, though the alteration was effected by the artist himself. In the background two men are playing backgammon. Although probably a circumstantial detail, it may allude to nefarious activities, for the game was often included by Steen in scenes involving sexual adventures, such as his canvas known as Two kinds of games in Amsterdam.

The present work was probably executed after Steen’s move from Warmond, near Leyden, to Haarlem where he was by 1661. This treatment of figures in an interior in which one of them remains aloof and visually dominant is also to be seen in Steen’sSolitary Drinker in Northampton (MA). Such paintings were probably Steen’s response to work being produced in Haarlem at that time by Adriaen van Ostade, for example his Tavern Interior in Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, dated 1661. The present canvas was most likely produced during the period immediately after that date.

Ivan Gaskell