Published  08/07/2001

Brueghel at Rotterdam


Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Master Draughtsman at the Museum Beijmans van Beuningen.
Brueghel at Rotterdam, through 5 August
(then Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 25 September – 2 December 2001).

The Beekeepers

This superb exhibition of drawings by Pieter Brueghel the Elder is drawing large numbers of visitors. As with Vermeer in London (a Dutch artist of the following century) only a very limited number of works survive, or can be traced today. The museum has cornered the surviving drawings, or most of these (61 in number). Before the show moves to New York, this is a European must-go. Included in such a catch is the enigmatic and curiously contemporary drawing, 'The Beekeepers’, where three figures in protective clothing and masks seem to have sprung from some demonstration of a nuclear decontamination process: not unlike the sinister figures deployed by the late Michael Andrews in the painting Drumond Castle Gardens’. The three similarly clad figures here manipulate conical beehives with modulated concentration. Also in the exhibition are superb, almost mythical landscape scenes, as well as fabled or moralising scenes such as ‘Big Fish eat Little Fish’. In Brueghel, it seems that humanity is carefully committed to work, and thus preoccupied with obsessive tasks as a means of survival in the natural world. Or so it seems today.

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