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.
This portrait of an unknown sitter bears Frans Hals’ monogram FH in the lower left. The sitter may have been a fellow artist: with his right hand covering the area of the heart, the man not only conveys his sincerity and passion but also proclaims his artistic sensibility.
The fluid brushstrokes defining individual strands of hair are consistent with Hals’ work from the end of the 1640s, a period in which hats with cylindrical crowns and upturned brims, such as the one shown here, were fashionable. Interestingly, this man’s hair was extended and the hat painted out sometime before 1673. In 1990–1991 National Gallery of Art conservators removed the overpaint of prior treatments that had lengthened the hair and hidden the hat, thereby restoring the portrait’s original appearance.
The vagaries of Frans Hals’ artistic reputation are more extreme than those of most artists. After having been the preeminent portrait painter in Haarlem during his day, he was almost totally forgotten after his death. It was not until the late nineteenth century that the vigorous and free brushwork that brought his portraits of Dutch burghers vividly to life was once again appreciated by critics, collectors, and contemporary artists. Hals’ paintings, long relegated to obscurity in back rooms or in attics, were proudly brought forward, sent to exhibitions, and sold to dealers and collectors eager to own works.
For an excellent assessment of Hals’ reputation, see Frances S. Jowell, “The Rediscovery of Frans Hals,” in Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals (Washington, DC, 1989), 61–86.
This Portrait of a Man first became known to the public when it was exhibited in Vienna in 1873. The New York dealer Léonardus Nardus sold it to P. A. B. Widener in 1898. The work was featured in 1908 in an enthusiastic article about acquisitions of Dutch and Flemish paintings in the United States written by one of the foremost authorities of the day, Willem Martin, who in that same year was appointed director of the Mauritshuis in The Hague. He wrote of this work: “It is treated with splendid dash and fluency, without a single repentir. Every stroke was absolutely right, and nowhere is there any alteration of the original composition.” Martin then proceeded to date the portrait to the years 1640–1645 on the basis of comparisons with other Hals’ portraits.
Wilhelm Martin, “Notes on Some Pictures in American Private Collections,” Burlington Magazine 14 (October 1908): 60.
The vagaries of time, however, affect paintings as well as artistic reputations. Despite Martin’s claims, this work had been subjected to many changes
Claus Grimm, Frans Hals: Entwicklung, Werkanalyse, Gesamtkatolog (Berlin, 1972), 24.
The drawing was first published in Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 3:102–103, no. 198.
Paint applied after a work is finished.
A layer of paint that covers original paint.
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 restoration of the painting in 1990 and 1991 removed the later
Another Hals portrait suffered the same fate, his powerful Portrait of a Man, c. 1650–1653 (Hermitage, Saint Petersburg); see Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals (Washington, DC, 1989), no. 73.
Since Martin’s initial assessment that the painting should be dated to 1640–1645, various other dates have been proposed. Wilhelm Valentiner suggested circa 1650, Claus Grimm circa 1648, and Seymour Slive circa 1655/1660.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner, Frans Hals: Des meisters Gemälde in 318 Abbildungen, Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 28 (Stuttgart, 1921), 238; Claus Grimm, Frans Hals: Entwicklung, Werkanalyse, Gesamtkatolog (Berlin, 1972), 107, no. 137; Seymour Slive, ed., Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974), 3:102–103, no. 198.
The identity of the sitter has not been established. Although Grimm saw a certain resemblance to Michael Willmann, a German artist active in the Netherlands in the 1640s, no evidence of contact between Hals and Willmann has come to light.
Claus Grimm, Frans Hals: Entwicklung, Werkanalyse, Gesamtkatolog (Berlin, 1972), 107. A comparison with Willmann’s self-portrait in Breslau is not convincing. See Dietrich Maul, Michael Willmann: Ein Beitrag zur Barokkunst Schlesiens (Strasbourg, 1914), frontispiece.
Hals’ depictions of artists include
On the meanings of such gestures, see Hans-Joachim Raupp, Untersuchungen zu Künstlerbildnis und Künstlerdarstellung in den Niederlanden im 17. Jahrhundert (Hildensheim, 1984), 108–115, 132 repro. Henriette de Bruyn Kops has suggested that Hals’ unidentified sitter reappears as the central figure in Hals’ Regents of the Old Men’s Alms House (1664), Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, inv. no. OS-I-115.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower left in monogram: FH
Remi van Haanen [1812-1894], Vienna, by 1873. (Mssrs. Lawrie & Co., London, by March 1898); (Bourgeois Frères, Paris), in 1898; (Leo Nardus [1868-1955], Suresnes, France, and New York); sold 1898 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; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Gemälde alter Meister aus dem Wiener Privatbesitze, Österreichisches Museum für Künst und Industrie, Vienna, 1873, no. 38.
- The Hudson-Fulton Celebration, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1909, no. 32, repro.
The original support, a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric, has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed. Cusping is visible in the X-radiographs along the left, right, and top edges. Striations are visible from the brush used to apply the thin white ground. Paint is applied in opaque layers, thinly in the sketchy background, and with more body in the figure. Lively brushstrokes are applied wet-into-wet but left distinct and unblended. Losses are small and scattered, and moderate abrasion is present, particularly in the black hat and adjacent background.
Prior to 1883, when the painting appeared in the art market in Vienna, the background had been overpainted to cover up the hat, and the hair repainted in a longer style. The restoration of the painting in 1990 and 1991 removed the later repaints and exposed the original hat, hair, and background. Although abraded, enough original paint remained to permit reconstruction of these elements.
 During this treatment the NGA Scientific Research department performed analysis of the pigments using cross-sections and polarized light microscopy (see report dated March 28, 1991, in NGA Conservation department files).
- Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie. Gemälde alter Meister aus dem Wiener Privatbesitze. Exh. cat. Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie, Vienna, 1873: 10, no. 38.
- Bode, Wilhelm von. Studien zur Geschichte der holländischen Malerei. Braunschweig, 1883: 89, no. 122.
- Catalogue of Paintings Forming the Collection of P.A.B. Widener, Ashbourne, near Philadelphia. 2 vols. Paris, 1885-1900: 2(1900):no. 207, repro.
- 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):89, no. 311.
- 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):88, no. 311.
- Martin, Wilhelm. "Notes on Some Pictures in American Private Collections." The Burlington Magazine 14 (October 1908): 59-60, pl. 2.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Catalogue of a collection of paintings by Dutch masters of the seventeenth century. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration 1. Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1909: 33, no. 32, repro., 154, 161.
- Cox, Kenyon. "Art in America, Dutch Paintings in the Hudson-Fulton Exhibition II." The Burlington Magazine 16, no. 82 (January 1910): 245.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Old Dutch Masters Held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Connection with the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. New York, 1910: 128, no. 32, repro. 129.
- 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, no. 13, repro.
- Bode, Wilhelm von, and Moritz Julius Binder. Frans Hals: His Life and Work. 2 vols. Translated by Maurice W. Brockwell. Berlin, 1914: 2:no. 191, pl. 120b.
- Bode, Wilhelm von, and Moritz Julius Binder. Frans Hals: Sein Leben und seine Werke. 2 vols. Berlin, 1914: 2:59, 191, pl. 120b.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Frans Hals: des meisters Gemälde in 318 Abbildungen. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 28. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921: 320, 238, repro.
- 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, 251, repro.
- Dülberg, Franz. Frans Hals: Ein Leben und ein Werk. Stuttgart, 1930: 198, 223.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 80, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Frans Hals Paintings in America. Westport, Connecticut, 1936: no. 96, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. Works of art from the Widener collection. Washington, 1942: 5, no. 624.
- National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 51, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 337, 311, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 66.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 58, 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):no. 310, repro.; 3(1974):102-103, no. 198.
- Grimm, Claus. Frans Hals: Entwicklung, Werkanalyse, Gesamtkatolog. Berlin, 1972: 24, 28, 107, 205, no. 137, fig. 161.
- Montagni, E.C. L’opera completa di Frans Hals. Classici dell’Arte. Milan, 1974: 106, no. 187, 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. 353, repro.
- Montagni, E.C. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Frans Hals. Translated by Simone Darses. Les classiques de l'art. Paris, 1976: no. 187, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 268, no. 347, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 197, repro.
- Grimm, Claus. Frans Hals: das Gesamtwerk. Stuttgart, 1989: 194-195, 288, no.132, repro.
- Slive, Seymour. Frans Hals. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Royal Academy of Arts, London; Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem. London, 1989: no. 73, repro.
- Grimm, Claus. Frans Hals: The Complete Work. Translated by Jürgen Riehle. New York, 1990: 194-195, 288, no. 132, repro.
- Grassi, Marco. "Art and Alchemy." Art & Auction 17 (June 1995): 88–91; 122, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 85-88, color repro. 87.
- Quodbach, Esmée. "A forgotten episode from America's history of collecting: the rise and fall of art dealer Leo Nardus, 1894-1908." Simiolus 43, no. 4 (2021): 353-375, esp. 373 n. 79.
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