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. Even though the young man’s turned pose and the artist’s extremely free brushwork have a genrelike quality, this small panel may very well be a portrait of Hals’ teenage son Harmen, whose appearance later in life is known from a drawing in the Haarlem archives.
Hals frequently used an illusionistic oval framing device for small-scale portraits he painted in the 1610s and 1620s. Although some of these small portraits served as modelli for engraved portraits, no print related to this image seems to have been made. The close-up composition and informal pose allowed Hals to reinforce the dynamic, three-dimensionality of the young man, whose elbow projects beyond the painted picture frame into the viewer’s space.
The identity of the impish young man in this oil sketch who turns in his chair and gazes out with a smile at the viewer is not known. Whether Hals’ perceptive characterization was exclusively due to his artistic genius or was aided by a personal relationship to the sitter may never be determined. It should nonetheless be noted that Hals’ son Harmen Hals (1611–1669) would have been in his middle to late teens when this sketch was painted, 1626/1629.  Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals (Washington, DC, 1989), 375; Harmen, who was baptized in Haarlem on September 2, 1611, followed in his father’s footsteps as a painter, although he inherited none of his father’s ability. He was buried in Haarlem on February 15, 1669. Slive has kindly drawn my attention to an unpublished drawing in the Haarlem archives that depicts Harmen Hals later in his life. The facial characteristics seen in the drawing are not unrelated to those in the painting. This age seems probable for the sitter, particularly given his fashionable wardrobe and sporty mustache.
That the painting depicts a specific individual can be argued based not solely on the characterization but also on the oval illusionistic frame that surrounds the young man. Hals frequently included such painted framing devices on small-scale portraits in the 1610s and 1620s. An identical painted frame, for example, acts as a foil for the sitter’s expressive gesture in Hals’ Portrait of a Man, 1627
Compare Image. Although the dramatic effect of that man’s gesture as he reaches through the picture plane is more pronounced than in the Washington painting, the elbow of the young man in this work does extend slightly beyond the painted frame. Hals’ use of the oval frame in this painting was more important compositionally, as it reinforces the dynamic spatial character of the pose. A number of Hals’ small-scale portraits were engraved, and the theory has been advanced that the painted sketches were intended as modelli for that purpose.  Seymour Slive, ed. Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 1:124. While it may well be that those who wished to have their portraits engraved, primarily preachers and scholars, specifically requested small-scale portraits to present to reproductive engravers, not all portraits of this scale—among them A Young Man in a Large Hat—were engraved. Thus it should not be assumed that the sketch’s primary function was as an engraver’s model. A strong tradition of hanging small-scale painted portraits existed in the Netherlands, particularly in Haarlem, during the 1620s and 1630s. In Jan Miense Molenaer’s Family Portrait Making Music, c. 1636 (Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, on loan from the Instituut Collectie Nederland), for example, a series of small portraits of family members can be seen on the back wall of the room.  Reproduced in Frans Halsmuseum Haarlem (Haarlem, 1969), 69, no. 213b.
If Hals’ small portrait of a young man fits into this tradition, it nevertheless breaks from it in a fundamental way. As the figure turns in his chair and smiles at the viewer, he seems related more to genre scenes than to contemporary portraits, which are more formal. Hals’ painting technique, moreover, is extremely free. The closest stylistic parallels in his work are with genre figures, in particular the Boy Holding a Flute, c. 1626–1628 (Staatliches Museum, Schwerin),  Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals (Washington, DC, 1989), no. 28, repro. which suggests that in this memorable sketch he sought to merge portrait and genre imagery.
The connections to genre painting are evident in the relationship of the pose of the young man with those of figures in contemporary “merry company” scenes, particularly in the works by Hals’ younger brother Dirck.  Discussed in Picture Gallery Berlin, Catalogue of Paintings, 2nd rev. ed. (Berlin, 1978), 199, no. 816A. The National Gallery’s picture is even closer to Dirck’s imagery when one considers the freely executed oil sketches on paper that served as models for figures in such paintings, for example a Seated Man, c. 1627, now in Paris (Institut Néerlandais).  Collection Lugt, inv. no. 1796. In another of Dirck’s sketches, Seated Man with a Pipe, c. 1627 (Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam), the figure leans over exactly the same type of chair as does the young man in the Washington oil sketch.  Inv. no. 1965:180. See Peter Schatborn, “Olieverfschetsen van Dirck Hals,” Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 21 (1973): 107–116. While comparisons with these studies help place A Young Man in a Large Hat thematically and chronologically, they also demonstrate the masterful execution of Frans Hals’ Washington panel. By contrast, Dirck never developed the ability to suggest the form of a hand with bold, swelling touches of the brush or to soften the modeling of a face with a sequence of short parallel strokes, effects so brilliantly rendered by his older brother in this work. Here, furthermore, Hals used a wide range of quick notations to animate the costume, from the broad angular strokes of the jacket sleeve to the delicate touches of the brush that indicate the white lace.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
Marks and Labels
C.J.G. Bredius, Woerden, by 1918. (M. Knoedler & Co., New York and Paris); sold 30 January 1929 to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington; deeded 28 June 1937 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1940 to NGA.
- Loan for display with permanent collection, Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1919.
- Frans Hals, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Royal Academy of Arts, London; Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, 1989-1990, no. 39 (cat. by Seymour Slive).
- Adriaen Brouwer: Youth Making a Face, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1995-1996, not in brochure.
- A Collector's Cabinet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, no. 24.
- Judith Leyster, 1609-1660, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2009, unnumbered brochure, fig. 6.
- Schneider, Hans. "Ein neues Bild von Frans Hals." Kunstchronik und Kunstmarkt 30 (1918–1919): 368–369, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Frans Hals: des meisters Gemälde in 318 Abbildungen. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 28. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921: 309, repro. 50.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt: wiedergefundene Gemälde (1910-1922). Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 27. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921: 309, repro. 50.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Frans Hals: des Meisters Gemälde in 322 Abbildungen. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 28. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, Berlin, and Leipzig, 1923: 309, repro. 51.
- Dülberg, Franz. Franz Hals: Ein Leben und ein Werk. Stuttgart, 1930: 94, 95, 219, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Frans Hals Paintings in America. Westport, Connecticut, 1936: no. 16, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1941: 96, no. 498.
- Trivas, Numa S. The Paintings of Frans Hals. New York, 1941: 31-32, no. 23, pl. 36.
- National Gallery of Art. Book of illustrations. 2nd ed. Washington, 1942: no. 498, repro. 26, 249.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 75, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 65.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 58, no. 498, 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. 110, 3(1974):41-42, no. 66.
- Grimm, Claus. Frans Hals: Entwicklung, Werkanalyse, Gesamtkatolog. Berlin, 1972: 27, 80, 201, no. 42.
- Montagni, E.C. L’opera completa di Frans Hals. Classici dell’Arte. Milan, 1974: 94-95, no. 67, 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. 354, repro.
- Montagni, E.C. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Frans Hals. Translated by Simone Darses. Les classiques de l'art. Paris, 1976: no. 67, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 268, no. 348, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 197, repro.
- Slive, Seymour. Frans Hals. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Royal Academy of Arts, London; Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem. London, 1989: 244, no. 39, repro.
- Grimm, Claus. Frans Hals: The Complete Work. Translated by Jürgen Riehle. New York, 1990: 277, no. 48, 234-235, fig. 123b.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 66-68, color repro. 67.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. A Collector's Cabinet. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1998: 66, no. 24.
- Hofrichter, Frima Fox. Judith Leyster (1609-1660). Exh. brochure. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2009: 4, fig. 6.
The original support is a single oak panel with a vertical grain set into a 0.5–centimeter-wide collar of oak that does not appear to be original. Dendrochronology dates the panel to an earliest felling date of 1625, with an estimated date for use of 1629. Both panel and protective collar are beveled along all four edges on the back. A check at the top right corner is the only damage to the support. The ground is a thick white layer that leaves the grain pattern visible and extends to the edge of the original panel in all areas save the lower right corner.
Paint is applied thinly in quick fluid strokes with rounded ends. Highlights are applied thickly, worked wet-into-wet in the thin underlayers. The sketchy nature of the painting is enhanced by some intentional rubbing in of thin paint layers. The painting is in excellent condition, with scattered small losses discretely inpainted. An aged but only slightly discolored varnish layer is present. No major conservation treatment has been carried out since acquisition.
 Dendrochronology by Dr. Peter Klein, Ordinariat für Holzbiologie, Universität Hamburg (see report in NGA Conservation department files dated May 1, 1987).
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Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals (Washington, DC, 1989), 375; Harmen, who was baptized in Haarlem on September 2, 1611, followed in his father’s footsteps as a painter, although he inherited none of his father’s ability. He was buried in Haarlem on February 15, 1669. Slive has kindly drawn my attention to an unpublished drawing in the Haarlem archives that depicts Harmen Hals later in his life. The facial characteristics seen in the drawing are not unrelated to those in the painting.
Seymour Slive, ed. Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 1:124.
Reproduced in Frans Halsmuseum Haarlem (Haarlem, 1969), 69, no. 213b.
Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals (Washington, DC, 1989), no. 28, repro.
Discussed in Picture Gallery Berlin, Catalogue of Paintings, 2nd rev. ed. (Berlin, 1978), 199, no. 816A.
Collection Lugt, inv. no. 1796.
Inv. no. 1965:180. See Peter Schatborn, “Olieverfschetsen van Dirck Hals,” Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 21 (1973): 107–116.