This work was painted by Judith Leyster, the first female painter in Haarlem. In his book on Haarlem, published in 1628, the historian Samuel Ampzing reported that Leyster learnt her trade in Frans de Grebber’s workshop, but her paintings bear a strong resemblance to Frans Hals’s work in both style and subject. Like Hals, she painted with an assured, spontaneous touch, and she chose the same themes: portraits, children playing, musicians, and figures dancing and drinking.
Grinning broadly, a man holds up a tankard. He is Pekelharing, a stage character who cropped up in the farces of the time. His name means ‘salt herring’, a Dutch speciality that causes a raging thirst, and he was a true drunkard. Pekelharing was often featured in paintings; he is to be found, for instance, in a work by Frans Hals, also painted around 1629.
Judith Leyster’s Pekelharing was guilty not just of drinking, but of smoking too. On the table on the left stands a burning stove; alongside it lie a pipe, a paper of tobacco and some splinters of wood to light the pipe. In this period, alcohol and tobacco were seen as great threats to mankind.