Peasants and Proverbs: Pieter Brueghel the Younger as Moralist and Entrepreneur

Enjoy a look around the exhibition, and hear guest curator Dr Jamie Edwards, from the University of Exeter, talk about the show’s themes, in this 12-minute video…

Credit: Blend Films

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564 – 1637/38) was hugely successful in his lifetime.

Born in Brussels, he was the son the renowned painter, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1526/30 – 1569). Clearly talented, by the time he was around 20 years old, Brueghel the Younger was already registered as a master in Antwerp’s Guild of Saint Luke. Between 1588 and 1627, he took on nine formal apprentices, an indication of his studio’s success, while records reveal his workshop produced more than 1,400 paintings. These range from exact copies of famous compositions by his father, to pastiches and more inventive compositions that further promoted the distinctive Brueghelian ‘family style’, usually focused on scenes of peasant life.

However, it was his prodigious and skilled output as copyist that consequently tarnished his reputation. Overshadowed by his famous father, he has often been seen as a second-rate painter, capable of only producing derivative works.

Peasants and Proverbs: Pieter Brueghel the Younger as Moralist and Entrepreneur shares recent research into a painting that’s a firm favourite with Barber visitors: the comical yet enigmatic little Two Peasants binding Firewood (about 1604-16). A dozen other versions of this composition exist, and three of them are featured alongside the Barber version. It will set out fresh insights and offer a new appreciation of a creative and capable artist with a sharp entrepreneurial mind-set.

The exhibition also explores how the Barber’s painting probes the likely meanings and significances of the painting’s intriguing, but evidently popular, subject – the gathering of firewood in winter – and the tradition of Netherlandish proverbs and how they feature in art.

The show features 17 works – including paintings, drawings, etchings and engravings – from public and private collections in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech Republic, with masterpieces lent by the Ashmolean, Oxford, the Holburne Museum, Bath, the British Library, the Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede, and the National Gallery, Prague.

21 OCTOBER 2022 – 22 JANUARY 2023


The Peasants and Proverbs exhibition catalogue is available to buy from reception, and will shortly be available online here.


Explore all the proverbs referenced in one of our exhibition highlights, the painting Netherlandish Proverbs, via our interactive guide.


Family Workshop | Celebrate the Seasons: Illuminated Calendars, Tuesday 25 & Thursday 27 October, 11am – 3pm. Free; in our foyer.

Curator Introduction, Tuesday 1 November, 6.00 – 7.30pm. Free; in the gallery.

Online Talk | Class and Classism with Jon Sleigh, Thursday 10 November, 6.00 – 7.30pm. Free; on Zoom.

Talk | Originals, copies or imitations?, Thursday 24 November, 6.00 – 7.30pm. £5 per person; in our Lecture Theatre

Family Morning | Food for Creativity, Wednesday 18 January, 10am – 12pm


Peasants and Proverbs: Pieter Brueghel the Younger as Moralist and Entrepreneur has been the subject of some great features and reviews in the European, national and regional press. Read a selection in: