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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Frans Hals/Portrait of a Man/1648/1650,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed September 27, 2022).

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Apr 24, 2014 Version
Jan 01, 1995 Version

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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.[1]

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.[2]

The vagaries of time, however, affect paintings as well as artistic reputations. Despite Martin’s claims, this work had been subjected to many changes [fig. 1]. As was first noted by Claus Grimm in 1972,[3] the dim shadow of a hat once worn by the sitter could be seen against the gray background. The long, wavy locks that flowed over his collar were later additions, as is evident from a drawing made after the painting by Pieter Holsteyn II (Dutch, c. 1614 - 1673), in which the man’s hair is shorter [fig. 2].[4] Since Holsteyn’s drawing does not include a hat, it appears that the portrait had been altered at least twice in its history, once prior to 1673, when the hat was removed, and again at a later date, when the hair was made longer. In 1990 and 1991 National Gallery of Art conservators removed the Repainting of the hair and the Overpaint in the background that covered the remains of the hat, which had been largely lost to Abrasion. Technical examination helped determine that the hat had been an original part of the composition, and the decision was made to reconstruct its appearance.[5] It is not known why the hat was originally removed, although it may have been a question of fashion.[6]

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.[7] A dearth of dated paintings makes it difficult to determine a precise chronology of Hals’ mature works, but the information gained from the conservation of the painting suggests that a date of 1648/1650 is the most probable. The fluid brushwork in the face, on the whites of the collar, and in the blacks of the costume is more broadly executed than comparable areas in Hals’ 1645 portrait Willem Coymans. The broad handling of paint is consistent with his style from the end of that decade (see Adriaen van Ostade). A date from the mid-1650s seems less plausible than it once did, now that the overpainting in the hair has been removed. Hals’ original brushwork defines the individual strands of hair in a manner that is consistent with his style at the end of the 1640s. Also helpful for narrowing the date is the style of the hat. Similar hats, with cylindrical crowns and raised brims, worn high on the head, are found in a number of Hals’ portraits from the 1640s, but they went out of fashion in the 1650s.

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.[8] The idea that the sitter may be an artist, however, is plausible, for Hals represented a number of artists without specific attributes.[9] The manner in which the right hand is brought near the chest, and by implication the heart, is comparable to an established iconographic tradition for artists’ portraiture. This rhetorical gesture conveyed not only the sitter’s sincerity and passion but also his artistic sensibility.[10]

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014


lower left in monogram: FH



Remi van Haanen [1812-1894], Vienna, by 1873.[1] (Mssrs. Lawrie & Co., London, by March 1898);[2] (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;[3] inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History
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.
Technical Summary

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.[1] Although abraded, enough original paint remained to permit reconstruction of these elements.


[1] 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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