Frans Hals was the preeminent portrait painter in Haarlem, the most important artistic center of Holland in the early part of the seventeenth century. He was famous for his uncanny ability to portray his subjects with relatively few bold brushstrokes, and often used informal poses to enliven his portraits.
Hals portrayed this gentleman with his right shoulder turned slightly toward the viewer and his left arm akimbo. His shoulder-length, wavy brown hair falls on either side of his face from under a black hat with a moderately wide brim. With his right hand, he gently pulls his black cape forward, while his left hand holds one of his gloves. The man’s identity is not known, but his fashionable attire and dignified bearing indicate that he was a person of means. The three-quarter-length pose adds to the dignity of this debonair man.
The bold and sure brushwork of this portrait are consistent with similar works executed by the mature master in the early 1650s. The sketchy contours around the hat and cape reveal that Hals improvised and adjusted his design as he worked.
This imposing middle-aged gentleman is depicted in a three-quarter-length pose with his right shoulder turned slightly toward the viewer and his left arm akimbo. His shoulder-length, wavy brown hair falls on either side of his face from under a black hat with a moderately wide brim. With his right hand he gently pulls forward a black cape at his back that encompasses his shoulders and arms. Three fingers of a glove he is holding are visible below his left hand.
The dates 1650/1652 generally suggested for the Washington painting seem probable, although as Seymour Slive has cautioned, “[documentary] evidence to establish a firm chronology for the last period of Hals’ life is meager.”  Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 1:182. Part of the difficulty in dating Hals’ portraits is that he frequently returned to earlier conventions for his poses. He had used the energetic pose of this gentleman, for example, as early as 1625 in his portrait of Jacob Petersz Olycan (Mauritshuis, The Hague).  Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Royal Cabinet of Paintings Illustrated General Catalogue, trans. G. Kilburn and Gary Schwartz (The Hague, 1977), 103, no. 459 repro.; Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 3: no. 32. Nevertheless, the style of the costume, the broad brushwork used to articulate it, and the bold silhouette of the figure against the gray background are consistent with other works generally dated to the early 1650s. The features are modeled with broad, bold strokes that have great strength and surety. The closest equivalent among Hals’ paintings is the equally impressive Portrait of a Man (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) that Slive also dates to this same period.  Inv. no. 91.26.9; Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 2: no. 298, 3: no. 190.
The identity of the sitter is not known, but his fashionable attire and dignified bearing indicate that he was a person of some means. Not unreasonably, the title given to the picture in the nineteenth century was Portrait of a Burgomaster. Quite possibly, although not necessarily, he was part of a pair. Wilhelm Valentiner suggests that the pendant might be the Portrait of a Woman in the Louvre, Paris.  Inv. no. M.I.927, 108 x 80 cm; Wilhelm R. Valentiner, Frans Hal: Des meisters Gemälde, Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 28 (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921), 320; Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 2:252, 254; 3: no. 171. Although the dimensions of the Louvre painting are smaller, there is technical evidence that the Portrait of a Gentleman was once on a stretcher whose dimensions were identical to that of the Louvre portrait. Nevertheless, sufficient reasons exist to reject Valentiner’s proposal. Slive rightly argues against it on grounds of date (he dates the woman about 1648–1650 and the Washington portrait about 1650–1652) and composition (the woman is comparatively small in the picture). To these objections, one could also add costume, for the woman’s clothes are unacceptably conservative for a mate to this dashing gentleman.
A number of pentimenti An alteration made by the artist to an area that was already painted. are visible in the background area around the figure, particularly near the hat, as Hals altered its shape more than once. The hat now has a narrower brim. These alterations are presently visible because the background and, indeed, much of the black jacket and cape are somewhat abraded [see abrasion A gradual loss of material on the surface. It can be caused by rubbing, wearing, or scraping against itself or another material. It may be a deteriorative process that occurs over time as a result of weathering or handling or it may be due to a deliberate attempt to smooth the material.]. The face and hands, however, are in excellent condition. Damages exist along all four edges of the painting as a result of its having once been placed on a smaller stretcher. At that point the image was about 2.5 centimeters smaller along both sides and the bottom, and 5 centimeters smaller along the top edge. At the time of this reduction a strip may have been cut off the top. During a later restoration the canvas was restored to its present large stretcher and a strip 2.5 centimeters in width was added to the top to provide some space between the hat and the top edge of the painting area.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
Marks and Labels
Probably bequeathed by Lord Frederick Campbell [1729-1816] to William Pitt Amherst, 1st earl Amherst of Arracan [1773-1857], Montreal, Sevenoaks, Kent; by inheritance to his son, William Pitt Amherst, 2nd earl Amherst of Arracan [1805-1886]; by inheritance to his son, William Archer Amherst, 3rd earl Amherst of Arracan [1836-1910]; by inheritance to his brother, Hugh Amherst, 4th earl Amherst of Arracan [1856-1927]; (Sedelmeyer Gallery, Paris); sold 13 January 1911 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1894, no. 81, as Portrait of a Burgomaster.
- Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1910, no. 89, as Portrait of a Burgomaster.
- 100 Paintings by Old Masters, Sedelmeyer Gallery, Paris, 1911, no. 11.
- Loan for display with permanent collection, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, 1985.
- Frans Hals, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Royal Academy of Arts, London; Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, 1989-1990, no. 71, repro.
- Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, 1997, unnumbered brochure.
- Royal Academy of Arts. Exhibition of works by the old masters, and by deceased masters of the British School. Exh. cat. Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1894: 20, no. 81.
- Davies, Gerald S. Frans Hals. London, 1902: 148, no. 81.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 3(1910):84, no. 294.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907-1928: 3(1910):83, no. 294.
- Arundel Club. Sixth Year's Publications. London, 1909: no. 9, repro.
- Moes, Ernst Wilhelm. Frans Hals: sa vie et son oeuvre. Translated by J. de Bosschere. Brussels, 1909: 107, no. 162.
- "New Prints." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 16, no. 82 (1910): 237-238.
- Royal Academy of Arts. Exhibition of works by the old masters and by deceased masters of the British school. Exh. cat. Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1910: 26, no. 89.
- Sedelmeyer, Charles. Illustrated catalogue of the eleventh series of 100 paintings by old masters of the Dutch, Flemish, Italian, French and English schools, being a portion of the Sedelmeyer Gallery. Paris, 1911: no. 11.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis, and Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Pictures in the collection of P. A. B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early German, Dutch & Flemish Schools. Philadelphia, 1913: unpaginated, repro.
- Bode, Wilhelm von, and Moritz Julius Binder. Frans Hals: His Life and Work. 2 vols. Translated by Maurice W. Brockwell. Berlin, 1914: 2:19, no. 247, pl. 156.
- Bode, Wilhelm von, and Moritz Julius Binder. Frans Hals: Sein Leben und seine Werke. 2 vols. Berlin, 1914: 2:66, no. 247, pl. 156.
- Sedelmeyer, Charles. Hundred masterpieces. A selection from the pictures by old masters which form or have formed part of the Sedelmeyer Gallery. Paris, 1914: 40, no.18, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Frans Hals: des meisters Gemälde in 318 Abbildungen. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 28. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921: 320, repro. 242.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Frans Hals: des Meisters Gemälde in 322 Abbildungen. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 28. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, Berlin, and Leipzig, 1923: 321, repro. 256.
- Dülberg, Franz. Frans Hals: Ein Leben und ein Werk. Stuttgart, 1930: 194, 198, repro. 196.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 84, repro.
- Hind, Arthur M. Rembrandt: Being the Substance of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures Delivered before Harvard University 1930-1931. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1932: xiv, 89, pl. 64.
- Tietze, Hans. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935: 336, no. 166, repro. 164.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Frans Hals Paintings in America. Westport, Connecticut, 1936: no. 97, repro.
- Waldmann, Emil. "Die Sammlung Widener." Pantheon 22 (November 1938): 341.
- Tietze, Hans. Masterpieces of European Painting in America. New York, 1939: no. 166, repro. 164.
- National Gallery of Art. Works of art from the Widener collection. Washington, 1942: 5.
- National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 50, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 312, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 66.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 58, no. 625, repro.
- Slive, Seymour. Frans Hals. 3 vols. National Gallery of Art Kress Foundation Studies in the History of European Art. London, 1970–1974: 2(1970):pl. 302; 3(1974):88, 99, no. 191.
- Grimm, Claus. Frans Hals: Entwicklung, Werkanalyse, Gesamtkatolog. Berlin, 1972: 110-111, 155, 205, no. 145, figs. 163, 167.
- Montagni, E.C. L’opera completa di Frans Hals. Classici dell’Arte. Milan, 1974: 106, no. 183, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 170, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 268-269, no. 355, color repro.
- Montagni, E.C. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Frans Hals. Translated by Simone Darses. Les classiques de l'art. Paris, 1976: no. 183, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 268, no. 349, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985:197, repro.
- Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids and Kampen, 1986: 309.
- Slive, Seymour. Frans Hals. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Royal Academy of Arts, London; Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem. London, 1989: 328-330, no. 71, repro.
- Grimm, Claus. Frans Hals: The Complete Work. Translated by Jürgen Riehle. New York, 1990: 189, fig. 69, 194-195, 289, no. 135.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 89-91, color repro. 90.
- Chrysler Museum of Art. Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch paintings from the National Gallery of Art. Exh. brochure. Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk. Washington, 1997: unnumbered repro.
The original support is a loosely woven, plain-weave fabric of medium weight, with the original tacking margins trimmed. A nonoriginal 2.5-centimeter-wide fabric strip was attached to the top edge at an unknown date. Prior to the attachment of the extension, approximately 2.5 centimeters of the painting surface along all four sides was turned over the stretcher edges to form a tacking margin. Regularly spaced damages, presumably former tacking holes, are visible in the X-radiographs along all four edges. Prior to acquisition, the painted edges were restored to the picture plane and the original support and extension were lined. Slight cusping is visible along the top, bottom, and left sides, but absent on the right.
A thin, smooth, white ground layer is visible through the thinly painted background. Fluid paint was applied over thin washes in distinct brushstrokes blended wet-into-wet. Several pentimenti are visible. The hat was reworked several times to a narrower form, and the proper right index finger was raised and repositioned. The upper edge of the proper right shoulder, arm, and collar were initially higher. Light highlights in the sitter’s proper left shoulder were also painted out by the artist.
In addition to the edge damages, small- to moderate-sized losses of paint and ground are scattered throughout the costume, background, and proper right hand. The thin background and dark costume are extensively abraded, with slight abrasion to the face. Conservation treatment was carried out in 1984–1985 to remove later repaints and a discolored varnish.
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Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 1:182.
Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Royal Cabinet of Paintings Illustrated General Catalogue, trans. G. Kilburn and Gary Schwartz (The Hague, 1977), 103, no. 459 repro.; Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 3: no. 32.
Inv. no. 91.26.9; Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 2: no. 298, 3: no. 190.
Inv. no. M.I.927, 108 x 80 cm; Wilhelm R. Valentiner, Frans Hal: Des meisters Gemälde, Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 28 (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921), 320; Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 2:252, 254; 3: no. 171.