Artists with the name Brueghel, also spelled Bruegel, played a major role in European visual culture beginning in the mid-sixteenth century. Their paintings, drawings, and prints are admired internationally for the exceptional quality of their execution, their witty and entertaining compositions, and their meticulous description of contemporary society and the natural world. The Brueghel family consisted of no less than five generations of artists, who were active from ca. 1550 until ca. 1700. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the most famous member of this artistic dynasty, was born in Brabant, “not far from Breda, in a village called Breughel,” according to his biographer, Karel van Mander. The exhibition Brueghel: The Family Reunion (Brueghel: De familiereünie) marks the first time in The Netherlands that all five generations of artists will come together under one roof. It promises to be a spectacular family reunion, with approximately 80 paintings from renowned collections throughout Europe and North America.
The exhibition showcases the family’s entire cast of characters, beginning with Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Mayken Verhulst, the father-in-law and mother-in-law of Pieter Bruegel. This dynamic artist duo was instrumental in the training and development of the first two generations of Brueghels. Special attention will be given to the role of Verhulst, one of the most important female artists in the Low Countries who, aside from her own career, strategically published her husband’s artworks posthumously and raised her two talented grandsons, Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder. Pieter Bruegel’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including Jan Brueghel the Younger and Abraham Brueghel, will also be highlighted in the exhibition. In addition to artists with the name Brueg(h)el, key figures such as David Teniers the Younger and Jan van Kessel the Elder joined the family tree through marriage and increased the dynasty’s international fame. Focused encounters between works by all five generations will illuminate the tremendous breadth and endurance of this successful family business and shed new light on the personal and professional connections between various family members.
Bringing all of the Brueghels together in one venue offers the unique chance to present this enterprising family in its totality and to discover their formula for success. What makes a Brueghel a Brueghel? In contrast to the monumental and theatrical artworks of contemporaries such as Caravaggio and Rubens, the paintings produced by Pieter Bruegel and his descendants typically feature a smaller scale, were displayed in more intimate settings, and require slow, close looking. These works also frequently reflect a contemplative response to the political upheaval and religious strife that dominated the second half of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. How, why, and for whom the Brueghels painted these works will be explored in the exhibition in thematic sections and focused encounters dedicated to topics that include: the role of women in the family business; building and marketing a brand; education and studio practice, artistic collaboration, and the impact on all of the generations of international networks, global trade, and colonialism. The Brueghels mastered all genres of painting and produced works on wood panels and canvas, as well as on copper. This variety of subjects and media guarantees an extremely diverse exhibition and a true feast for the eyes.
This ambitious exhibition reflects the programming and collecting focus of Het Noordbrabants Museum in recent decades, namely artists with a Brabant background and the early modern visual culture of the Southern Netherlands. Pieter Bruegel the Elder was also dubbed a second Bosch in his time, forging an important link with the most famous native son of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The Brueghels’ connection to Brabant and Bosch, as well as the museum’s extensive collection of graphic works by Pieter Bruegel and high-quality selection of paintings by family members such as Jan Brueghel the Elder, David Teniers the Younger and Jan van Kessel the Elder make Het Noordbrabants Museum the ideal venue for this must-see exhibition.