A quacksalver wearing a tall black hat stands on a podium and hawks his services at a crowded village fair. He has just pulled a tooth, and the patient in question leaves the podium, stumbling down the steps at right. The quack is accompanied by a masked comedian, two monkeys, and musicians whose music is intended to drown out the patient’s screams. This farcical scene is observed by an elegant couple – sophisticated townsfolk – who stand in front of the podium. Several other figures show an interest in the merchandise on offer at various market stalls.
Although in the past the village was identified as Valkenburg near Leiden, it is probably the product of Jan Steen’s imagination. He presumably produced this painting after moving to The Hague (c.1649), where he married the daughter of the landscape painter Jan van Goyen. Two figures standing in the middle, to the left of the horse, were previously linked to a drawing that is now attributed to Isack van Ostade (Leiden, Prentenkabinet, Universiteit Leiden, inv. no. PK-T-1895).
Jan Steen (Leiden 1626 - 1679 Leiden)
Material and technical details
47.4 x 66.1 cm
lower centre: JSteen JS in ligature
Hennin sale, Paris, 16 January 1764 (Lugt 1342), no. 64 (100 francs and 50 centimes); A. Visscher-Boelger, Basel; Jos Schall Gallery, Baden-Baden; J.E. Goedhart Gallery, Amsterdam, 1901; Abraham Bredius, The Hague, 1901-1946 (on long-term loan to the Mauritshuis, since 1901); bequest of Abraham Bredius, 1946