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willem pietersz. buytewech
(circa 1591/92–1624, Rotterdam)

The Flute-Player. Engraving. 14.4 cm (diameter). 1606. Van der Kellen 11; van Gelder 1; Hollstein 18.

This bizarre depiction of a flute-player and a young drinker is extremely rare, being the first dated work by the painter, draughtsman and etcher, Willem Buytewech, who was dubbed “Geestige Willem” (Witty Willem) by his contemporaries, a reference to the elements of humour and caricature in his gallant genre scenes. Buytewech was around the age of fourteen when he made the present engraving (dated 1606), of which only a few impressions have survived. Certain characteristics, such as the ungainly treatment of the figures and the somewhat rough execution, are clear evidence of a very early work. The cryptic inscription “Ick hou my by t Swaenshals en by t goet bier / Als die kan vol is soo maeck ick goet cier” (I hold the swan’s neck and drink the good beer / When the tankards are full, we’re full of good cheer) is a reference to an inn just outside Rotterdam that was popular with day-trippers. It lay on a bend in the river Rotte that was called “Swan’s Neck” in the vernacular. Hence the young man is holding the neck of a swan in his left hand, while swinging an empty tankard in his right hand. As a young man Buytewech used to go to this well-liked inn with his friends, where he sought distraction by listening to music and consuming large amounts of beer.

Little is known about Buytewech’s training as a draughtsman and etcher. He was admitted to the Guild of St. Luke in Haarlem in 1612 and returned to Rotterdam in 1617. His small, rare and extremely spirited printed oeuvre draws its inspiration from a wide variety of sources. Buytewech may have been trained as an etcher by Simon Frisius and was in close contact with fellow artists from Haarlem, such as Esaias and Jan van de Velde II, as well as Cornelis Kittensteyn. It can therefore be assumed that almost all the etchings that have survived were produced when Buytewech was active in Haarlem between 1612 and 1617.

A very fine impression with traces of burr, with margins. Minor aging, otherwise in perfect condition.