Jan Steen
(Leiden, 1626-1679, Leiden)
The Journal Readers, ca. 1660/70
Oil on panel, 34.5 x 44.5 cm
Signed lower right: J Steen

People in the 17th century were not gorged with news of the "great world". Then the arrival of a new broadsheet with news was quite an event and an occasion for joint reading in that ancient news agency – the tavern. The spelling out of a "Newen Zeyttung" by three gentlemen of the village is the theme of this picture. A balustrade, on which a woman leans to listen, separates the table of the three from the entrance, right, and the garden in the background. Green grapevines hang from the thatched roof of the arbour. In the left background, there are two men in a corner, one of whom seems to be planting flowers in a tub under the supervision of a better-dressed gentleman. There is another flower, a carnation, in the foreground. In the centre, an overturned tun is used as a rack for mug and pipe. The picture is suffused with quiet humour – quieter than usual with Steen: The reader holds the sheet right up to his nose; the seated listener grins foolishly, while the others are all attention, and he so clumsily stretches out his legs – this alone suffices for comedy in such a quiet little world. The composition is well balanced and economical, downright severe as compared to most of Steen’s works. His true rank as a painter becomes quite clear here: the colours are glossy and delicate; the lilac, brown and green of the clothing is subdued by a dominant greyish-brown tone; the red jacket and the white cap of the woman are the brightest points. Everything in this painting suggests that it was done in Steen’s most mature period, when he was in Haarlem.