Egbert van Heemskerck was born in 1634 in Haarlem. After the death of his father Jasper, who was a doctor, his mother Marytge remarried, taking the art dealer Jan Wijnants as her husband in 1651. Although he was registered in the local guild of St Luke in 1646, this seems unlikely, as he was only 12 years old at the time. (It has been suggested he became a member in 1664 and was mistakenly registered in 1646, which also happened to others such as the still-life painter Evert Collier, but this remains conjecture as the guild registry for 1664 has been lost.) He was supposedly trained by Pieter de Grebber but stylistically he was much influenced by the Flemish genre painter Adriaen Brouwer. In 1654 van Heemskerck married Hestre Bastiaens van den Heuvel; their son, Egbert the Younger (ca. 1676 - 1744), later became a genre painter in the style of his father.
Van Heemskerck spent some time in Italy and then returned to the Netherlands, before going on to London, where he was active from the early 1670's onwards. There he worked for John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, and later for an art dealer located at the Strand. He mostly painted genre scenes, often with a satirical undertone, which once apparently landed him in serious trouble with King Charles II of England. Aside from a brief stint in Oxford, van Heemskerck remained in London until the end of his life.
The present drawing, quickly and confidently drawn in green ink, depicts a tavern scene with brawling peasants. Its characteristic choice of medium, as well as its angular and striking style, link it to a group of similar tavern and peasant scenes by the same hand, formerly often attributed to Adriaen Brouwer (as is attested by the inscription in the currect sheet). However, recently researchers have made the case for an attribution to van Heemskerck, on the basis of stylistic motifs as well as the fact that among a large group of very similar drawings, formerly in the collection of Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, some were inscribed ‘Heemskirk del.’ on the verso in a contemporary hand.