The Bitter Potion

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License of this image: CC-BY-SA
License of original image: The Städel Museum, Frankfurt - CC-BY-SA

By: Adriaen Brouwer (1605/06-1638)
Created: 1636-1638, Collection: The Städel Museum, Frankfurt , Germany Rights: CC-BY-SA

Thinking back to that horrible cod liver oil you were given as a child should produce the adequate revoltion encapsulated here. .

Brouwer practiced mainly in Antwerp and specialised in depicting peasants going about their business and in their taverns and his mastery for this was even appreciated by his famous colleague Peter Paul Rubens. Tough scenes of ordinary life were a very popular thing for wealthy Dutch city dwellers to hang on the walls of their parlours.

The middle class emulated the self-control exercised by the nobility but also delighted in the unchecked emotions and coarse customs of the simple folk. This work shows just such an undisguised expression of feeling in public. The potion is obviously utterly repulsive to the taste. His eyes shut tight, his mouth wide open – we can almost hear the uncouth curse this fellow is blurting out. In earlier depictions of the five senses, taste had always been pictorialised with exquisite, fine-tasting foods. Here, however, Brouwer makes the bitterness visible with the powerful reaction in the peasant’s face and the loose, sketchy brushstrokes further enhance the effect.