Whilst most people remember Bruegel the Elder most for his sprawling landscape paintings with huge levels of human activity right across the canvas, such as Hunters in the Snow or Netherlandish Proverbs, he was actually a very fine draughtsman. These skills essentially formed the basis behind most of his paintings and he practised intensely in order to achieve the levels of technical brilliance that are displayed in the artwork featured here. During the Renaissance era, both in the south and north of Europe, the techniques of drawing were taught with great vigour and also considered an essential tool for any artist, whichever medium they would later choose to specialise in.
Bruegel eventually realised that these drawings could be repurposed as etchings or woodcuts and from that the printing process could produce many copies of his designs. Although he needed to consult other specialists in order to complete this process, Bruegel managed to generate additional income from doing so and also was able to spread his artistic reputation to other parts of Europe for the first time. Many people were now able to afford printed artworks such as these, when his paintings would clearly never have been within their budgets. To spread art deeper into society may also have pleased this artist who was known to have a strong affinity with the poorer members of society.
Whilst being part of a private collection, it is believed that Landscape with a Group of Trees and a Mule may have been loaned to a number of exhibitions over the years and so some members of the public may well have seen it. Generally speaking, those artworks in permanent, public collections will have been researched and documented in a far more detailed way, because of the ease with which researchers can access them. This issue is not too much of a problem, though, as this drawing is entirely consistent with his drawings of around this time, and so it may not offer anything particularly unique to our understanding of this artist, as charming as the piece may be.