When I first saw this work by Pieter Bruegel the Elder I had an impression that I was looking at a scene from a very weird dream: a faceless person who performs a strange and meaningless activity near to another person huddled up on a tree. “He was the first surrealist in the world!” I felt exited. “And it’s only the 16th century!”
To my surprise, after reading a book about ‘the first surrealist ever’, I discovered that the artist didn’t have anything surrealistic in his mind. The picture was a fragment of his engraving where he simply depicted bee keepers at work. The strange things on the faces are the masks to prevent bee stinging, and the barrels in the hands are the hives.
Totally ashamed of my ignorance, I kept reading the book, and not in vain. The book informed me that Pieter Bruegel the Elder is notorious for avoiding painting human faces. He is an author of many works with dozens of people, but almost each person looks back or aside or their faces are covered with hats, or the faces are so small that you simply cannot distinguish any features.
Why? The book didn’t give the direct answer but hinted that the artist didn’t actually liked people as a kind. He preferred nature which is the major character in his best works.
Hum, I thought, so, maybe my first impression wasn’t so wrong. Even though those people are just bee keepers at work, the artist still didn’t see the point to give them a personality, to express their feelings or thoughts. People are faceless and meaningless, after all. A strange turn, isn’t it? One should trust their first impression, no matter what – that was my ultimate conclusion, and I closed the book.
To end up this musing, I would love to share a painting created by the Russian artist Vladimir Rumyantsev who, obviously, loves Bruegel the Elder almost as strongly as he loves cats – alas, there’s again no much place for people.