Brouwer was a Flemish painter and draughtsman who was also active in Holland. He is documented for the first time in Amsterdam in 1625 in the house of the painter Barent van Someren. The following year he is mentioned in an official document of the city of Haarlem in relation to the society of rhetoricians known as De Wijngaardranken. According to the 17th-century writer on art Houbraken, Brouwer was a pupil of Frans Hals, a statement that has not been proven and he may in fact have trained with his father, a painter of tapestry cartoons in Oudenaarde. It is not known when Brouwer left Haarlem but in 1631 he is registered as a master in the guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp. From that year onwards Brouwer is repeatedly mentioned in documents in that city, principally in relation to fiscal matters. Between 1633 and 1643 he was in prison, possibly for debt as well as for political reasons. The year that he was set free he joined the rhetoricians chamber in Antwerp known as De Violieren. Brouwer died at the early age of 32 in the outbreak of plague that struck Antwerp in 1638.
The chronology of the artist’s work is difficult to establish as only two of his works are dated. While at the end of his life he produced various landscapes, he primarily focused on genre scenes, in particular scenes of ordinary people engaged in leisure activities. This subject was frequently painted in the 16th century, reaching its maximum peak of splendour with Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Brouwer, however, translated these exterior scenes to the interiors of inns, filling the space with large figures seen drinking, playing cards, quarrelling and fighting. His paintings are characterised by their refined technique and precise, delicate brushstrokes of an almost transparent type, painted in successive layers. The figures, which are completely integrated into the settings, are painted with a sense of space around them and are noted for their individuality and expressive characterisation. Brouwer always worked in a small format, at times bordering on miniature painting.