The Bitter Potion

ca. 1630/40

Oil on oakwood
Inv. No. 1076

48 × 36 cm

zur  Biographie

A painter greatly admired by Rubens, Brouwer was a native of Haarlem, but from 1631 until his premature death he practised his profession in Antwerp. The half-length-figural depiction of a coarsely dressed young fellow was presumably executed in the last few years of the artist’s life and is considered one of his most prominent works. The painting’s subject has apparently just swallowed a gulp of bitter medicine, for his face is distorted by an expression of extreme repulsion: His eyes are cramped shut in a squint, his nose wrinkled, his brow furrowed and his mouth wide open. Brouwer has thus provided a depiction of taste which could hardly be more different from traditional representations of the five senses: until then, this sense had been personified by figures in the act of sampling appetizing dishes of food laid out before them. With its focus on the figure’s grimace, Brouwer’s painting is reminiscent of self-portraits painted by Rembrandt in the same period, likewise with an attempt to capture a wide range of affects in the facial features.

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