The Bitter Potion
- Date of Creation:
- Alternative Names:
- The Bitter Tonic, The Bitter Draught
- Height (cm):
- Length (cm):
- Art Movement:
- Created by:
- Current Location:
- Frankfurt, Germany
- Displayed at:
- Städel Museum
- Städel Museum
The Bitter Potion Story / Theme
The Bitter Potion, also known as The Bitter Draught and The Bitter Tonic, was produced during the last years of Brouwer's career and is among his most important works.
The sitter had obviously just tasted a bitter medicine and his extremely distorted facial expression is evidence of deep disgust. The bitter tonic was believed to have been made up of herbs from the cinchona tree which helped fight off malaria. It was also known as the 'constipation of drugs'.
The subject's eyes are pinched convulsively, his nose wrinkled, his brow furrowed and mouth wide open. Thus, in this work Brouwer returns a representation of taste, which greatly differs from the traditional depictions of the five senses which until then had been personified by figures that were enjoying tasty dishes.
Brouwer's immense detailing on the subject's face is very much like the self-portraits of Rembrandt, who also sought to illustrate a variety of emotions in his face.
This work dates to the period where Brouwer remained in the Netherlands after his studies in Frans Hals' studio. This work most likely signifies his most mature level of facial expression and human emotion. Furthermore, this work is most likely to have drawn the strongest influence from Hals in Brouwer's use of bold, vivacious brush work and his complimentary use of pure white in strong, thin layers over the final color to create movement.
The sitter for this work is believed to be Adriaen Brouwer himself as he wanted to capture this bitter moment as he had felt it but this theory is questionable.
The Bitter Potion Analysis
The Bitter Potion
The Bitter Potion
Warm colors dominate this work, in various high and low brown tones with a strong white sheen and undercoating for the flesh which was another technique derived from Hals. Brouwer also uses a bright red interlaced with white that created an orange tone for the flushed skin that lightens this dark composition.
Bold dashes of white are also prominent in the work as it is thickly applied in various places to create movement as well outline the figures. Brouwer used a much thicker brush that was heavy with paint as the strokes are clearly visible, especially upon the jacket. Slight and delicate daubs were painted for the subject's stubble.
A finer and more delicate brush is used for obvious facial lines and for the little bowl containing the tonic.
Unlike with his other works, Brouwer does not use black but rather hard prominent lines in light brown and white to define the subject's expression. Black is instead used for the shadows and in the under layers of his hair. The artist also adds bright oranges to define the sitters' shape.
The Bitter Potion Critical Reception
Pieter Brueghel the Elder
In The Bitter Potion Brouwer intensified his brushwork and this is seen as proof of Rubens' influence. Together with the subject matter this new technique resulted in this canvas becoming one of the best examples of Dutch peasant genre painting.
Despite a short and rather unproductive art career, Adriaen Brouwer managed to revolutionize this art form by fusing village scenes inspired by Pieter Bruegel with Haarlem genre painting.
With The Bitter Potion Brouwer successfully captures his subject's sensory perception of the potion and portrays his grimace with fine detailing. The image is not simply a representation of the sense of taste within a series of paintings depicting "the five senses," as was customary at the time but rather it is a thorough observation of a human condition.
With this work Brouwer created a pictorial masterpiece and one of the most impressive images of human emotion of this era. The Bitter Potion is also proof of Brouwer's maturity reaching new heights.
The Bitter Potion Related Paintings
The Bitter Potion Artist
The ultimate 'bohemian artist' of the 17th century, the greatest admiration for Brouwer's work was in regards to his subject matter and landscapes. Most of his admirers were close friends too and the majority sought to recreate the emotional and psychological rendering that he so successfully executed in his works.
Adriaen Brouwer greatly influenced his contemporaries and his scenes of peasant life became hugely popular in both Dutch and Flemish art of the 17th century and made a lasting impression on the art world overall.
Although his depictions often included rather crude subject matter his figure paintings were noted for their precise color and refined execution. Brouwer was skilled at being able to immerse himself in his surroundings but extract himself when necessary to execute his works.
He became an observer in local taverns and detached himself enough to create his vivid, realistic images. Such images could only have been produced by a sober man who was in complete control of his senses. Brouwer's workmanship was impeccable and was greatly admired by no less than Rembrandt himself.
Both Rubens and Rembrandt had numerous Brouwer paintings in their own collections and Rubens owned more works by the artist at the time of his death than any other painter.
It was Brouwer's verve and taste in composition that allowed him to stand out from his peers and influence masters such as Adriaen van Ostade, Jan Steen and David Teniers the Younger.
Whether for his craftsmanship or concepts, Adriaen Brouwer is possibly the greatest painter of the lower classes that ever existed and today his works can be found in the best art museums around the world.
The Bitter Potion Art Period
The Baroque style originated in Italy and its pioneers include great artists such as Michelangelo and Tintoretto. Baroque art centered on impersonal and generic works with an animated and energetic mood.
This art genre came into play at a time when the foundations of capitalism were being laid by the world's growing economies and art was expanding in new and exciting directions.
The success of the Baroque style was promoted by the Roman Catholic Church, which had decided, in response to the Protestant Reformation that art should focus on religious themes and emotional involvement. The aristocracy also saw Baroque art as a means of demonstrating wealth and power.
Flemish Baroque painting developed out of the Southern Netherlands between about 1585 and 1700. Flanders' art scene prospered during this time too and many talented artists emerged including Adriaen Brouwer.
Flemish Baroque painting saw emphasis shift to still-life, genre paintings of everyday scenes and landscape painting. Adriaen Brouwer was a genre painter who reveled in domestic and street scenes and events taking place in local taverns. Brouwer is possibly the greatest painter of the lower classes the world has ever known.
The Bitter Potion Bibliography
To find out more about Adriaen Brouwer please use the recommended reading list below.
• Knuttel, Gerard. Adriaen Brouwer. The Master And His Work. The Hague, 1962
• McCall, George Henry. Paintings by the Great Dutch Masters of the Seventeenth Century. Kessinger Publishing Co. , 2005
• Schmidt, Benjamin. Innocence Abroad: The Dutch Imagination and the New World, 1570-1670. Cambridge University Press, 2001
• Silver, Larry. Peasant Scenes and Landscapes: The Rise of Pictorial Genres in the Antwerp Art Market. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006
• Slive, Seymour. Dutch Painting, 1600-1800 (Yale University Press Pelican History of Art Series. Yale University Press, 1998
• Van Deursen, A. Th. Plain Lives in a Golden Age: Popular Culture, Religion and Society in Seventeenth-Century Holland. Cambridge University Press, 1991
• Vlieghe, H. Flemish Art and Architecture 1585-1700 (Yale University Press Pelican History of Art Series). Yale University Press, 1999
• Yeazell, Ruth Bernard. Art of the Everyday: Dutch Painting and the Realist Novel. Princeton University Press, 2007