The strength and vitality of the people who helped establish the new Dutch Republic are nowhere better captured than in the work of Frans Hals, who was the preeminent portrait painter in Haarlem, the most important artistic center of Holland in the early part of the seventeenth century. This unidentified sitter—one of Hals’ most impressive portraits—was sixty years old when the painting was made, according to the artist’s inscription. Hals conveys her strong personality through the twinkle in her eyes, the smile on her lips, the firm grip of her hand on the chair, and the boldness of her silhouette against the light gray-brown background. The small Bible or prayer book she holds implies a pious character, and her clothing is conservative for the period. The velvet-trimmed brocade jacket, satin skirt, and lace cuffs and cap are nonetheless of the highest quality and remind us that Haarlem’s wealth derived from the processing of and trade in textiles. The woman’s elaborate linen ruff collar, starched and supported by concealed wires, was gradually going out of style at this time.
Hals’ portraits were often commissioned as pendants in which a husband and wife face each other, with the man on the left and the woman on the right. It is quite possible that a similarly sized Portrait of an Elderly Man standing behind a chair, currently in the Frick Collection, New York, is the pendant to this superb and engaging work.
Although the name of the sitter in this impressive portrait is not known, Hals has inscribed her age, sixty, and the date of the painting, 1633, in the background on the left. The small Bible or prayer book she holds in her right hand and her conservative black costume with its white millstone ruff collar convey a pious nature, yet Hals reveals far more about her through her face and hands than through her costume or book. With broad strokes of the brush he captures her lively, robust personality. The woman’s self-confidence is expressed in the twinkle of her eyes, in the firm grasp of her hand on the arm of the chair, and in the strong silhouette of her form against the light gray background.
This painting demonstrates the range in Hals’ brushwork for commissioned portraits of the early 1630s. At this stage of his career, projecting the three-dimensionality of the figure through strong modeling of the features was of primary importance. The form of the head is built up in planes of light that are accented with firm strokes in the highlights and shadows. The white lace cap and collar are carefully depicted, as the artist sought to project not only their detail but also their translucence. While he also articulated the design in the black jacket with great care, he indicated the folds of the skirt with comparatively free brushstrokes that suggest the flickering of light off its surface.
The woman’s pose is adapted from a portrait Hals had executed two years earlier of Cornelia Claesdr Vooght
Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 3: no. 78; 2: pl. 1240.
Cornelia Claesdr Vooght was the wife of the Haarlem burgomaster Nicolaes van der Meer, whose companion portrait Hals also painted in 1631
Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 3: no. 77.
Pendant portraits by Peter Paul Rubens of Peter van Hecke and Clara Fourment, c. 1630, with the man standing and the woman seated, are in the Mauritshuis, The Hague. See Ben Broos and Ariane van Suchtelen, Portraits in The Mauritshuis 1430–1790 (Zwolle, 2004), 239–243, nos. 53, 54.
The Frick Collection: An Illustrated Catalogue—Paintings, American, British, Dutch, Flemish and German (New York, 1968), 1:209, no. 10.1.69; Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 3: no. 67.
The possible relationship of these paintings was first proposed in Wilhelm R. Valentiner, Frans Hals: Des meisters Gemälde, Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben, vol. 28 (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921), 108; and Wilhelm R. Valentiner, Frans Hals Paintings in America (Westport, CT, 1936), no. 41; it was followed by Numa S. Trivas, The Paintings of Frans Hals (New York, 1941), 41.
Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 3: no. 67. Claus Grimm, Frans Hals: The Complete Work, trans. Jürgen Riehle (New York, 1990), cat. 44, also dates the Frick painting to about 1628.
Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals (Washington, DC, 1989), 262, no. 45. The current tacking margins of Portrait of an Elderly Lady are covered with original paint. If they were flattened, the dimensions would be 105.6 by 89.4 centimeters. Three of the edges have been trimmed, leaving no unpainted margins. Since very little cusping of threads is visible along the edges, it seems probable that the image was still larger; its original size, however, cannot be determined. Recent technical study of the Frick painting suggests that the left edge has been reduced in addition to the reduction of the lower edge described in The Frick Collection: An Illustrated Catalogue—Paintings, American, British, Dutch, Flemish, and German. (New York, 1968), 1:209–210, no. 10.1.69 (see notes dated August 21, 2008, for the National Gallery of Art painting, and September 22, 2008, for the Frick painting in National Gallery of Art conservation department files).
Stylistically, there are arguments for placing the Frick portrait in about 1633, despite the blond tonality of the painting that Slive rightly associates with Hals’ works from the late 1620s. In the Frick’s painting, as in the National Gallery of Art picture, the figure boldly faces the viewer as light firmly models his features. His costume, particularly in the shoulder and sleeve design, is similar to that in Portrait of a Man, 1633, now in the National Gallery, London.
Neil MacLaren, The Dutch School, 1600–1900 (London, 1960), no. 1251; Seymour Slive. Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 3: no. 81.
The layer or layers used to prepare the support to hold the paint.
An initial layer of paint applied to a ground that begins to define shapes and values.
These remarks are based on examination of the two paintings (as in note 7 above) as well as analysis by the National Gallery of Art scientific research department using microscopic examination of cross-sections from both paintings (see notes dated August 21, 2008, for the National Gallery of Art painting, and September 22, 2008, for the Frick painting in National Gallery of Art conservation department files).
Finally, one may also argue for the relationship of the Washington and Frick paintings in the way each of them varies from their prototype in the Haarlem pair. The hierarchical, frontal images of the 1631 portraits of the burgomaster and his wife have given way to more informal poses in which the figures turn toward the viewer and communicate through their direct glances and smiling, open expressions, a suggestion, perhaps, of a different social status.
No inscription appears on the Frick painting, and examination did not show evidence that an inscription has been effaced. In Hals’ companion portraits Lucas de Clercq and Feyna van Steenkiste, 1635 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. nos. c 556, c 557; see Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. [London, 1970–1974], 3: nos. 104, 105), only the woman’s portrait bears a date.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
center left: AETAT SVAE 60 / ANo 1633
Jurriaans; (his sale, Van de Schley, Roos, and De Vries, Amsterdam, 28 August 1817, no. 20); Cornelius Sebille Roos [1754-1820], Amsterdam. Charlotte-Camille, Comtesse Boucher de la Rupelle [née de Tascher, d. 1911], Paris; sold by 1905 to (Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris); James Simon [1851-1932], Berlin, by 1906; (Abraham Preyer, The Hague); purchased 12 June 1919 by (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); held jointly with (Thos. Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London), June to November 1919); (Duveen Brothers, Inc.); sold June 1920 to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 28 December 1934 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
- Catalogue of 100 Paintings by Old Masters, Sedelmeyer Gallery, Paris, 1905, no. 13.
- Ausstellung von Werken alter Kunst, Kaiser-Friedrich Museum, Berlin, 1906, no. 49.
- Masterpieces of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300-1800, New York World's Fair, 1939, no. 179.
- Frans Hals, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Royal Academy of Arts, London; Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, 1989-1990, no. 45, color repro.as Portrait of a Seated Woman.
- 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):108, no. 371.
- Moes, Ernst Wilhelm. Frans Hals: sa vie et son oeuvre. Translated by J. de Bosschere. Brussels, 1909: 108, no. 186.
- Bode, Wilhelm von, and Moritz Julius Binder. Frans Hals: His Life and Work. 2 vols. Translated by Maurice W. Brockwell. Berlin, 1914: 1:43, no. 138, pl. 79.
- Bode, Wilhelm von, and Moritz Julius Binder. Frans Hals: Sein Leben und seine Werke. 2 vols. Berlin, 1914: 1:40, no. 138, pl. 79.
- Sedelmeyer, Charles. Hundred masterpieces. A selection from the pictures by old masters which form or have formed part of the Sedelmeyer Gallery. Paris, 1914: 30, no.13, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Frans Hals: des meisters Gemälde in 318 Abbildungen. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 28. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921: 313, 103, 109, 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: 313, 109, repro.
- Dülberg, Franz. Frans Hals: Ein Leben und ein Werk. Stuttgart, 1930: 114.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Frans Hals Paintings in America. Westport, Connecticut, 1936: no. 41, repro.
- Cortissoz, Royal. An Introduction to the Mellon Collection. Boston, 1937: 40.
- McCall, George Henry. Masterpieces of art: Catalogue of European paintings and sculpture from 1300-1800. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Exh. cat. New York World's Fair, New York, 1939: 86, no. 179.
- Duveen Brothers. Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941: no. 191, repro.
- Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 94, no. 67.
- Trivas, Numa S. The Paintings of Frans Hals. London and New York, 1941: 39, no. 41, pl. 59.
- National Gallery of Art. Book of illustrations. 2nd ed. Washington, 1942: no. 67, repro. 25, 240.
- National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. Washington, 1949: 74, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. London, 1957: pl. 101.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963: 311, 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: 57, repro.
- Slive, Seymour. Frans Hals. 3 vols. National Gallery of Art Kress Foundation Studies in the History of European Art. London, 1970–1974: 1(1970):115; 2(1970):pls. 135, 138; 3(1974):42, 50, no. 82.
- Grimm, Claus. Frans Hals: Entwicklung, Werkanalyse, Gesamtkatolog. Berlin, 1972: 90, 202, no. 60, 89, repro.
- Montagni, E.C. L’opera completa di Frans Hals. Classici dell’Arte. Milan, 1974: 97, no. 83, 96, pl. 31.
- National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 168, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 268, no. 350, repro.
- Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 68, pl. 53.
- Baard, H. P. Frans Hals. New York, 1981: 57, fig. 60.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 268, no. 344, color repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1984: 10, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 196, repro.
- Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids and Kampen, 1986: 308.
- Slive, Seymour. Frans Hals. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Royal Academy of Arts, London; Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem. London, 1989: 262-263, no. 45, color repro.
- Grimm, Claus. Frans Hals: The Complete Work. Translated by Jürgen Riehle. New York, 1990: color repro. 168, 183, 279, no. 63.
- Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 67.
- Crijns, Marianne, and Rieke van Leeuwen. Huidziekten in de Beeldende Kunst. Nieuwegein, 1992: 84, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 123, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 69-72, color repro. 71.
- Southgate, M. Therese. The Art of JAMA II: Covers and Essays from The Journal of the American Medical Association. Chicago, 2001: 50-51, color repro.
- Weller, Dennis P. Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age. Exh. cat. North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis; Currier Museum of Art, Manchester. Raleigh, 2002: 110-111, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 186-187, no. 146, color repro.
- Harris, Ann Sutherland. Seventeenth-century Art and Architecture. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2005: 322, repro.
- Atkins, Christopher D.M. The Signature Style of Frans Hals: Painting, Subjectivity, and the Market in Early Modernity. Amsterdam, 2012: 226.
- Wheelock, Arthur K, Jr. "The Evolution of the Dutch Painting Collection." National Gallery of Art Bulletin no. 50 (Spring 2014): 2-19, repro.
The original support, a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric, has been lined with the original tacking margins trimmed. Part of the painting surface has been turned over all four stretcher edges to form a new tacking margin, reducing the height by at least 3 centimeters and the width by at least 2.5 centimeters (see text). The X-radiograph shows only faint cusping along the top and left edges. Above the book at the juncture of the dress and arm is a large repaired hole and adjacent vertical tear.
Paint is applied over a thin, cream-tan ground as a fluid paste, with impasto in thicker passages such as the brocade and book. The face and black dress are freely painted with wet-into-wet handling, and brushstrokes in the skirt and hands are left unblended. The black brocade pattern and final touches in the lace, ruff, and cap, all added in a final painting stage, create an impression of precision and restraint. Adjustments to the silhouette of the black drapery are visible to the naked eye. A cluster of small losses is found in the upper right corner, along with scattered small losses in the background and drapery, and a linear diagonal loss that passes through the proper left thumb. In 2008 the painting was treated to remove discolored varnish and overpaint. 
 During this treatment the painting was analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department using microscopic examination of cross-sections (see notes dated August 21, 2008, in NGA Conservation department files).
Related IconClass Terms
- fashion and clothing +burgher
- the rich
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- portraiture +burgher
- historical persons not known by name - BB - woman