Houbraken Translated


Volume 1, page 320-329

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Sensing very quickly that a great spirit dwelled in the boy and that he daily made uncommon progress in art, Frans placed him alone in the attic, separated from the other students. But the curiosity of youth compelled them on occasiony to visit him by stealth to see what he was making, and they were continually amazed at his ability, ingenuity and inventiveness. That is why they secretly made a deal with him to paint something for them, whatever came to mind. So he made for them the five senses, the twelve months and things like that, for which they paid him a nickel or two apiece. These works, painted loosely and inventively, pleased them so well that they persuaded him with a promise of doubling his wages to spend more time on them.

But as Brouwer had to work hard for his master and got little to eat (as Frans' wife would have liked to fill Brouwer’s hollow trunk with wind) he became despondent, and incited by the other students, one of whom was Adriaen van Ostade, he decided to run away from his master, which he did. But not knowing (after going through the whole city) where to stay, seeing that his mother had already died and having neither friend nor acquaintance, he walked into the church at the onset of night and sat down beneath the organ (which is usually played on winter evenings for the enjoyment of the burghers), saddened and desperate, where he was seen by someone who knew him (as he would come to the house of his master), who seeing him so dejected and with tears on his cheeks, asked him what was wrong.


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Brouwer confessed frankly, complained about his mistreatment, showed how little he had on and about his person, and said that internally the situation was even more meagre and that for this reason he had run away from his master, that now he did not know where to head but did not dare to return home in dread of a beating. Out of concern for the boy, the kind man offered to intercede for him and coaxed him to return under his protection to the house of his master, who had likely searched every corner of the city for him to lure him back, as he already profited greatly from him; for everyone was equally greedy to have a painted work by this strange master (as Frans was able to baptize the work).

Brouwer then came back into his house with drooping wings. Frans acted perturbed and ordered him to get out of his sight and go to his room, with threats that if he should do this again, he would teach him a thing or two. But in the meanwhile our friend was so well able to persuade Frans of his duty towards the boy that he made pledges concerning it. A suit was also bought for Brouwer at the rag market, but it looked as up-to-date as if it had been left over from the first world along with Noah's Ark, and it fit him (as he was small for his age) like Saul's armour did David. It had to fit because Frans said: the outfit looks fine and as if it had been painted onto your body. Nor did Brouwer complain all that much, for if the jacket was too big for him, at least he did not need to unbutton it whenever he put it on or off.

A little happier because of the suit, he began


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once more to paint diligently, and Frans had great profit from the work of his brush, seeing that all amateurs were eager to have something by this new master (to whom Frans had sole rights).

But this did not last for long, seeing that some of his fellow apprentices, who had discovered Frans’ secret trade as well as the high prices, daily riled him saying: that he was a big fool if he allowed himself to be blindfolded by his master any longer, and that he was too great a master in art and brought in altogether too much profit to be treated so badly. They finally advised him to flee out of slavery once and for all and go to Amsterdam, where they knew that his pieces were being sold for high prices. Brouwer grabbed his chance when Frans was out and hightailed it to Amsterdam, without equipping himself with any recommendation for some art lover, so that when he arrived there he did not know to whom to turn, but enquiring after some art buyer or someone who traded in paintings, he ended up with one Barend van Someren, then innkeeper of the arms of France, who had practised art in his youth and himself had a son named Hendrick van Someren, who painted handsome histories, landscapes and flowers. This innkeeper took him in and put him to painting. Here our Brouwer met with a fatter kitchen than he was used to having, which pleased him wonderfully well, and Van Someren later expressed his intent to see the worth of his brushwork.

Now he painted with greater eagerness and diligence


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some small pieces. But his landlord, seeing that this went so easily, concluded that he was capable of greater endeavours. So he advised him to paint something of larger dimensions on a copper plate in order to demonstrate thereby of what he was capable in art, which he did. He painted a fight between farmers and soldiers, arisen (so it seems) out of a card game, of which the cards were strewn all over the ground. Here one strikes the other on the head with a beer tankard, there another lies felled to the ground, with the pallor of death already set in but who still seems to want to avenge himself with his foil, which he tries to remove from its sheath during the struggle. On the other side I one sees someone rising from his chair in total rage, with his knife in his fist, as if he would force his way among the champions. In the distance one sees someone descending the stairs in all haste with a pair of tongs in his hand, etc.

Everything was depicted so naturally according to the kind of passions in the facial features, and painted so wonderfully confidently and freely that it could serve as a sample of his art.

In the meantime the rumour had spread that Brouwer was the new master whose art had for long been vended by Frans Hals and that, having run away from him, he was hanging out in Amsterdam, so that the lovers of the art of painting were soon hunting to sniff out in which corner of Amsterdam he might be. It eventually leaked out that he was in the house of Van Someren. Where Mister Du Vermandois [= Nicolaes Sohier], who greatly desired to have a piece by his hand, came to visit him and seeing the mentioned work of art,


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at once took pleasure in it and asked for the price. Now his landlord had advised him in advance that such a gentleman, who had already come to ask if he could buy something by him, would come, and that he should demand 100 ducats for the mentioned piece, which he did with hesitation, not thinking that someone would give him that much money for one piece. That is why, when the mentioned gentleman asked him, he stood hesitating for a long while, stroking his moustache and repeatedly saying: I put a lot of work into it, before it came out that he wanted 100 ducats for it, which mentioned Mister Du Vermandois at once granted him, and requested that he accompany him to his house, to receive his full demand in ducats. Adriaen stood perplexed, still thinking that the gentleman wished to mock him, but Someren nodded to him, so that he took the painting under his arm and went with the gentleman, who, being well- pleased with his purchase, counted out his money. This piece later came to hang in the cabinet of the art-loving Elector Palatine [1].

Not being used to handling so much money, he did not know out of happiness how quickly he could abscond with his booty, and (having come home) dumped the money out on his bed, and wallowed around in it.

Finally he gathered the silver disks back together and scampered out of the house with the booty without anyone knowing where he had gone. After the passing of nine days he came back home late in the evening, singing and whistling, and when asked why he was so cheerful, and whether he still had his money? he gave as answer: that he


Adriaen Brouwer
Fighting card players in a tavern, c. 1626
Munich, Alte Pinakothek

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had relieved himself of that ballast. In this way he lived constantly, and did not have the strength in himself, whenever he had money, to keep himself from drinking, swilling and carousing.

This tidy discourse satisfactory settles the argument concerning Brouwer’s native city and assigns it to Haarlem. However, we do not wish to make a pronouncement about this so as not to indicate an incorrect verdict and wrest its townsmen from one or another city, since he could also have been brought from Flanders to Holland by his parents. Or it could be that Frans Hals took Brouwer with him to Flanders, given that we see from the annotations which Vincent Laurensz. van der Vinne I kept on the back of funeral notices for Frans Hals II and Harmen Hals that they were born in Malines. There is no disagreement about his being born in Brabant and the manner of his dying and burial since all the memoirs agree on this, with the exception that the one is somewhat more precise in his notations than another, as I find with the repeatedly mentioned text in this respect and will demonstrate at the end.

He was inclined to farce from his youth on and intent on executing all sorts of buffoonery. It happened that he passed a wool spinner’s store (such stores are used to have open windows in the summer which are closed with oilpaper covered panes in the winter) stuck his head through the window to ask for the time but continued without waiting for an answer. This nature increased with the years. Even so he was not lacking in sense but often revealed his intellect


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beneath his buffoonery. That is why we show a monkey next to his bust portrait in Plate O. One can’t say that fortune treated him like a stepmother, for he himself descended into poverty by his loose changeability and neglect. It happened (Cornelis de Bie tells) that he landed in Amsterdam once, naked and bare (plundered at Sea by pirates), and turned to the brush to come by money. Intending to do something by which he would be long remembered, he has a coarse linen robe and coat made, painted it with strange flowers and foliage; so that it appeared to be new material, and after it was covered to a gloss with varnish, went with it through the street, where it caught the eyes of the ladies (who generally like new things); as in the theatre. But deceiving the world in silence in this way did not seem to satisfy him. What does he do? He manages to be at the theatre just as the comedy was coming to an end, and in that drapery and with a wet cloth in his hand stepped into the view of all the spectators, who watched in great astonishment, anxious over what would come of it.

When he had turned around and around many times, so that they had all viewed him sufficiently from front and behind, he addressed them all as follows: Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking curiously at this strange cloth, yes many Ladies have already inquired in the shops if this kind of material can be obtained anywhere; but you should know that I am the maker of it, and that there is no more of it than what you see here. And it is not what you imagine



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it to be: for if you knew what it was you would not desire it: He then took the wet cloth, wiped off the foliage flowers painted on it in watercolour, and continued his speech thus: You all thought that it was a precious patterned fabric, but now see that it is only a rough linen cloth. This is the also the way with worldly beauty as well, which everyone pursues so avidly. Her shine is but the face powder of deceit and vanity and once wiped off, she is nothing more than this paltry cloth, which none of you would desire.

Mundus exteriora rerum ostendit, interiora tegit.

The world's beauty is but illusion.
False and venomous within

Cornelis de Bie, after saying of our painter that he

Was slow at painting, and happy at spending,

mixes a story in with his rhyme about the means Brouwer sometimes used to get money (when he would get arrested in the pub by the police) and to free himself: to wit he had them bring ink and paper, made a sketch or drawing, and sent them with it to one or another connoisseur of art to fetch two or three hundred guilders for it. And whenever it happened that less was offered for it, he would rather offer it up to the flames because his full demand for it had not been satisfied. Non credo. Yet if I had to believe it, I would sooner believe it than what is reported as truth


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on page 269, to wit, That one Petrus Cavallinus, Roman painter (yet having a Holy and Blessed life) had painted a Crucified Christ which, hung in Church of St. Paul in Rome, spoke to St. Bridget.

This is related as truth, and no wonder, it is written and printed Nelle vite de sancti del ordine de F. Seraf. Razzi. But let that be.

If you are eager, reader, to know the content of the artworks which accrued him so much fame, I have taken the trouble to describe them.

His art of painting consisted of jest and farce,
Which he could apply with his brush with such wit,
That no one of this age is his equal.
Whose work is of similar disposition.
Here stands a clumsy farmer vomiting from drunkenness,
And his wife ready to tan his hide with a stick.
There one sees a sailor with a pint clutched in hand,
And here a corrupt soul who cheats at cards.
There a glutton drains the pot amidst the piping,
Or pretends to grab at the lap of the innkeeper's wife.
There people fight for laughs with broom, bench and chair,
There one sees bucolic cuddling, and that kind of action.

After Brouwer had lived in Amsterdam for some years and had practiced his art with great renown, he got an inclination to visit his colleagues in Antwerp and in that spirit set out on this journey without considering that the States were then at war with the


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Spanish Netherlands, so that he needed to acquire a passe-partout. That is why almost as soon he arrived in Antwerp he was taken for a spy by the Spanish soldiers and imprisoned in the castle. Many a time he sighed over his careless action. Many a time he regretted his undertaking and in vain wished himself in Amsterdam. But every cloud has a silver lining (goes the saying).

What happened then? The Duke of Arenberg [= Albert de Ligne, Prince of Barbançon] also sat imprisoned in the castle at that time, but in such a way that he had freedom to go as he pleased within the exterior wall in the company of two soldiers. Once he walked past the bars of the prison where Brouwer sat, who, believing him to be the Governor, addressed him and implored for his release, seeing as how he had been put there though innocent. The Duke asked him who and from where he was and what he had come to Brabant for. The answer was: that he was a painter and had come from Amsterdam to practice his art in Antwerp. The first (replied the Duke) I have to believe, but the last, I will put to the test, and continued, I will provide you with paints and everything that it requires. This pleased Brouwer, who hoped that this might be the beginning of his deliverance, as also came to pass.

The Duke, who was visited every day by great people, including Peter Paulus Rubens, who came to visit him that same afternoon, came into action and asked Rubens to have painting supplies brought by one of his students, as there was a painter


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