Prior to the 1991 sale (see Provenance below) Dr. Frima Fox Hofrichter saw the present work first hand and confirmed the painting to be by Judith Leyster, dating it to 1631-33. She also noted that the painting is related to one of a group of five paintings known from photographs in the archives of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorisches Documentatie, The Hague, which depict half length portraits of adolescents, each engaged in an activity clearly associated with one of the five senses. For example, the sense of smell is a young girl with a basket of flowers, the sense of taste is a young boy smoking and holding a roemer of wine. The paintings in the Hague photograph, however, while traditionally associated with the name of Leyster, are manifestly of inferior quality to the present work and are certainly not by the same hand (one of them, Smell, is reproduced in J.A. Welu (ed.), Judith Leyster. A Dutch Master and Her World, exhibition catalogue, Worcester, 1993, p. 196, fig. 12a, as [rather generously] Attributed to Jan Miense Molenaer). They would seem to derive from a putative original group of five paintings, from which the present work would have been the sense of sight.
Although some of Leyster's paintings have probably had their signatures erased in order to pass them off as works by Frans Hals - indeed several of them currently bear his monogram - it is clear that many of her works were never signed. Of the forty-four autograph paintings listed in Frima Fox Hofrichter's catalogue raisonné, only twelve are signed.
The ruff and open chemise of the boy depicted here are very similar indeed to those in another unsigned panel by Leyster, her young Violinist with a Skull, which Dr. Fox Hofrichter dates to circa 1633 (Bristol, City Art Gallery; see F. Fox Hofrichter, Judith Leyster. A Woman Painter in Holland's Golden Age, Doornspijk 1989, no. 30, reproduced plate 30 (the plate wrongly labelled "c.1630")). The face and hands of the young violinist are also similar in handling to their equivalents in the present picture, and the neutral dark background of both pictures is characteristic of Leyster at this date. The informal pose, assymetric composition and unusual viewpoint are also typical of Leyster, and in their studied informality might tempt the latter-day viewer to evoke comparisons with photography in some of her pictures, particularly her studies of children. A good example is the sotto-in-su composition of her Two Children with a Cat of circa 1630 (see Fox Hofrichter, pp. 44-5, no. 13, reproduced in colour plate V).
The youth is portrayed here as a Kannekijker - literally "jug looker" - peering into his jug to see if he has any thing left to drink. This was a popular genre subject, especially in Haarlem, where it was painted by Leyster's teacher Frans Hals, for example in a picture of circa 1626-8 in Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen.