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A painting showing an older woman wearing a white headdress and a black dress.

Frans Hals and the Duchess Goldblatt

Duchess Goldblatt is one of Twitter’s most engaging personalities: a fictional character who charms her followers with tart, witty tweets that also brim with optimism and loving kindness. At 81, Her Grace is the most famous resident of the imaginary town of Crooked Path, New York. She is funny and imperious (as befits her title), she delights in the world and offers her hand in friendship—with a (virtual) glass of wine, or a slice of cake, or both—to everyone in it. Her Grace’s chosen avatar is a work in the Gallery’s collection: Frans Hals’s Portrait of an Elderly Lady

Frans Hals painted this compelling image nearly 400 years ago. We know nothing about this woman’s identity apart from her age—60, inscribed on the painting—but Hals’s skill is immediately evident in his insightful rendering of her face. He suggests, rather than defines, her features—soft flesh, rosy cheeks, a sidelong glance, and slightly parted lips—to make them appear mobile and alive. This is a kind face, but it hints at a sharp intellect and a keen interest in the world.

It’s no wonder that the Duchess Goldblatt selected Hals’s portrait as her earthly manifestation. We asked Her Grace a few questions to learn more about her relationship to the painting.

Frans Hals, Portrait of an Elderly Lady, 1633

Frans Hals, Portrait of an Elderly Lady, 1633, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.67

What do you imagine it was like to sit for a portrait by Frans Hals? What can you tell us about your outfit?

If you’ll notice, I have a sweet expression on my face. There’s a twinkle in my eyes. I imagine that, for me, it was the delight of a lifetime to have my portrait painted by Frans Hals. 

I prefer to wonder what it’s like for you, as stewards of this great work of art, to have to go home at night and leave my portrait behind on the wall. How often you must bring sleeping bags into the Gallery to be near me overnight. It’s got to be four or five times a week at least, I imagine.

The Gallery’s current title for the work is Portrait of an Elderly Lady, but an inscription on the painting clearly states that the subject is 60 years old. By choosing Hals’s portrait as your avatar, you opted to shave 21 years off your age. Do you admit to a certain degree of vanity? Is 81 the new 60?

To refuse to acknowledge that my face is evidence of God’s hand at work in the world would be a sin against my gifts.

It’s interesting to me that readers have found it incomprehensible that any woman today would choose this portrait as her avatar. People assume it had to have been a man having some fun. It’s so deeply ingrained in us that women should not only want to be beautiful but should also make every effort to present themselves in specific ways: younger, sculpted, perfected. It’s anti-human. I’m not feeding that.

We do know some of the painting’s history before it was given to the nation in 1937. But how would you like to imagine your portrait found its way to the Gallery? 

I think this portrait properly belongs to everyone who may need it, as opposed to being hoarded away in a private treasure. I suspect that the angels and saints in their infinite kindness pulled a few strings to make sure that as many people as possible could enjoy it. 

Many of Your Grace’s fans have made pilgrimages to the Gallery to view your likeness. What would you like your portrait to say to them, as they stand before it?  

I think my portrait helps people envision the personification of loving kindness, and it probably encourages them to have more compassion for themselves and others.

If Your Grace could have any other works of art from the Gallery in your personal collection, which would they be and why? 

Thank you. I accept your generous offer. There’s quite a nice Martin Puryear sculpture I’ve had my eye on: Blue Blood. I can imagine it would be very restful to sit in silent contemplation of it for years and years on end with no interruptions of any kind.

That’s the trouble with several years’ silent contemplation of a Martin Puryear, isn’t it? Someone will always insist on interrupting. And then you have to start all over again from the beginning.