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This picture presents a cautionary tale of sensual over-indulgence. The young man on the left, a self-portrait of Steen, conveys the Sense of Smell through the pipe he smokes, and the Sense of Taste in the wine glass he holds aloft. In the background an embracing couple represent Touch, and to the right the elegant lute player illustrates Sound through her music, and Sight by the beauty of her own person. As is often the case with Steen’s work, all is not as it first appears. The embracing couple are a pair of mismatched lovers. The presence of a large purse hanging from the woman's waist implies that her ‘Love’ would have to be dearly bought. The evils of alcohol and tobacco are mocked in the person of the laughing artist, whose impotence, as well as his over-indulgence, is mirrored by the taper, flaccid and inert, but still visibly smouldering, on the stone parapet to his left.

The Wallace Collection



The Lute Player




oil on canvas


H 36.4 x W 53.2 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

acquired by Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, at an unknown date; bequeathed to the nation by Lady Wallace, 1897

Work type



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The Wallace Collection

Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, Greater London W1U 3BN England

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