In March 1634 Anthony van Dyck ceased his duties as court artist to King Charles I of England and returned to the southern Netherlands. During the next nine months he painted a number of portraits of exiled French aristocrats who had relocated to Brussels following the exile of the queen mother of France, Maria de' Medici, whom they supported politically. Among those he portrayed at the queen mother's court was Henri II de Lorraine.
Son of Charles de Lorraine, 4th duc de Guise, and Henriette-Catherine, duchesse de Joyeuse, Henri assumed the title of archbishop of Rheims in 1629 at age fifteen, a prerogative of his wealthy Catholic family. However, his supposedly oft repeated guide for living — "There are only two things in life: war and women, or women and war, the order does not matter, as long as both are present" — conflicted with the religious conviction expected of him as archbishop, and he left Rheims in the early 1630s to join the imperial forces in Germany. He presumably moved to Brussels after the Battle of Nördlingen in 1634, perhaps in the retenue of Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand, who, after his victory in that battle, became the new governor of the southern Netherlands.
Van Dyck pictures Henri full-length, his armor, symbolic of his recent military involvement, discarded at his feet. Reflecting the height of fashion, Henri wears his hair long, with a lovelock that falls gracefully over his broad lace collar adorned with a multicolored bow. Dressed in a resplendent tan doublet split at the sleeves to reveal a billowing white shirt, sporting large boots and vibrant red breeches trimmed with gold and festooned with decorative ribbons, Henri exudes confidence but very little seriousness, which may in fact reflect his lack of moral character.
Presumably the sitter, Henri II de Lorraine [1614-1664, became 5th duc de Guise in 1640], Paris. François Roger de Gaignières [1642-1715], by 1711; (his estate sale, Paris, 29 July - 6 August 1717, no. 22 [505 livres]). Probably Sir Edward Grey, Viscount Grey of Fallodon [1862-1933]; by inheritance to the Misses Bright, Stocks. Arthur Kay [c. 1862-1939], Esq., Glasgow, by 1893. (H.O. Miethke, Vienna); Jacob Herzog, Vienna, by 1895 until at least 1899;(William Schaus, New York); purchased 1900/1901 by William Collins Whitney [1841-1904], New York; by inheritance to his son, Harry Payne Whitney [1872-1930], New York; by inheritance to his widow, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney [1875-1942], New York; by inheritance to their son, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney [1899-1992], New York; gift 1947 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1893, no. 130, as Portrait of William Villiers, Viscount Grandison.
- Van Dyck Tentoonstelling ter gelegenheid der 300e verjaring der beboorte van den Meester, Museum van Schoone Kunsten, Antwerp, 1899, no. 82.
- Eighth Loan Exhibition of Old Masters. Paintings by Anthony van Dyck, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1929, no. 40, repro., as William Villiers--Viscount Grandison.
- Masterpieces of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300-1800, New York World's Fair, 1939, no. 107, repro., as William Villiers, Viscount Grandison.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California, 2002-2003.
- Kelly, Francis M. "A Van Dyck from the Cabinet de Gaignières in the Whitney Collection, New York." Apollo 22 (August 1935): 91-94.
- "Old Masters in America: Important Gifts to the National Gallery, Washington" The Illustrated London News (September 16, 1950): 449, repro.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 84, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 311, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 47.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:278, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 122, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 264, no. 340, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 147, repro.
- Barnes, Susan J. Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings. New Haven, 2004: III.101
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 90-95, color repro.