There is a hum of activity this week as work on the Timeline (to be posted in the cafe in the coming weeks) heats up. As was alluded to in previous posts, the Timeline will map major moments in the history of the UMFA, and today’s guest post touches on a real treasure. When this piece entered the collection, it put the UMFA in a celebratory mood: thanks to the generosity of Val A. Browning, the people of Utah gained access to one of the great European masters.
Pieter Brueghel’s “Dance Around the Maypole”
written by David Caroll, Director of Collections and Exhibitions
It seems fitting that a large and complex lineage of Flemish painters either named Brueghel, or having a close kin connection should have their own word. Yes, to my great surprise “Brueghelian” is actually a word, defined as either connected to the family, or a superlative for great paintings in their iconic style. Pieter Brueghel the Younger, was one of the two sons of Pieter the Elder progenitor of the famous family painting enterprise.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger was the artist of the Museum’s painting Dance Around the Maypole; a lively scene of gaiety and spontaneity centered on a Christianized pagan celebration for the end of spring. It’s a painting full of the details of ordinary 17th century people taking a break from their bleak, hard, and undoubtedly short by our standards lives to have fun. It isn’t complex, the Maypole is there and a few people even seem to care though it’s mostly an excuse for a neighborhood drinking party.
I first saw this painting in 1992 when two of us from the Museum, with a couple of University cops as escorts, went to Val Browning’s Ogden home to pick it up for the Museum. As the most valuable object the Museum had yet acquired, our boss probably felt obliged to make a fuss. I think the fuss mostly amused Mr. Browning, but he was too much of a gentleman in the best sense of the word to say so directly. With sufficient fanfare the Museum’s Brueghel was given a prominent place in the gallery, introduced to our public with (appropriately) a party, and it has been on exhibit without interruption ever since.