This spirited portrayal of a confident Dutch dandy has been variously attributed to Frans Hals and Willem Buytewech since the late-nineteenth century. It was exhibited as Frans Hals in Berlin in 1890, and Hofstede de Groot believed it to be one of the earliest works by Hals, circa 1610-12. The painting continues to be the subject of lively debate, as recent scholars have pointed out visual associations with the work of Willem Buytewech, a contemporary of Hals who is known for his prodigious talent as a draughtsman, as well as a handful of paintings on a relatively small scale. Though Buytewech specialized in genre painting, it is not unusual for Dutch artists of the early seventeenth century to have painted a small number of portraits, most likely for friends and family. Prof. Dr. Claus Grimm intends to publish the portrait as most probably the work of Buytewech in a forthcoming catalogue, while Martin Bijl has suggested an attribution to Hals based on similarities with oil sketches formerly attributed to Dirck Hals that he attributes to Frans Hals.
After Hofstede de Groot, Wilhelm Bode and Willem Valentiner continued to support the attribution to Hals. While the attribution to Willem Buytewech was first advanced by Poensgen in 1926 it was then doubted by Kunstreich in 1959. However, the foremost scholar to write on Buytewech, the late Egbert Haverkamp-Begeman, lamented his inability to examine the painting first hand, but judging from black and white photos kept an open mind, stating that “The sharpness and wittiness of the figure are certainly reminiscent of Buytewech.”1 Haverkamp-Begemann, and later Seymour Slive, noted the similarity between this portrait and Buytewech’s signed pen drawing Portrait of a young man in profile in a medallion now in Düsseldorf.2
A citizen of Rotterdam, Buytewech worked briefly in Haarlem and joined the guild there in 1612. His few surviving paintings can all be linked to the work of Frans Hals in their spirited execution; but instead of portraiture like Hals, Buytewech concentrated on genre paintings, mainly depictions of merry companies conversing, making music and dining indoors and outside in lush parkland, and always dressed to the hilt in expensive clothing of the burgher class produced by Holland’s burgeoning economy.
One painting by Buytewech that can be linked to our painting in several ways is the Elegant Couples Courting of ca. 1616-1620 in the Rijksmuseum (fig. 1).3 The bony hands of the man seated on the left, as well as his swagger disposition and top hat, strongly resemble the present work. The man standing on the right and looking as confident as the man in our painting also wears a black top hat and holds his arm akimbo towards the viewer, with palm facing outwards.4 Although our painting is undoubtedly a portrait, the man portrayed could have walked out of any one of Buytewech’s merry companies.
The evidence for attributing this portrait to Hals is complex. Unlike Buytewech, Hals did specialize in portraits from the start of his career, but this painting would have to be one of his very first, as the sitter’s tall hat would have been outdated by 1620. Hals joined the St. Luke’s Guild of Haarlem in 1610, but his first major work was not until 1616: The Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Militia Company (fig. 2; Frans Halsmuseum). The man in the far right of this group portrait resembles the man in an oil sketch of a standing ensign that has traditionally been attributed to Frans’s brother Dirck Hals (fig. 3). If, as suggested by Martin Bijl, the oil sketches were in fact done by Frans instead, they would provide a strong visual link with the present painting. Regardless of the identity of the artist, the portrait encapsulates the lively, fluid painting technique and jaunty fashion of Haarlem in the mid-1610s.
1. Haverkamp-Begemann, 1959, p. 76.
2. Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, inv. F. P. 4835
3. E. Korthals Altes in Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Volume I: Artists born between 1570 and 1600, Amsterdam/New Haven 2007, p. 98, no. 41. A dating of 1618-120 is discussed, because of the possible reference in the painting to Jacob Cats’ Sinne- en minnebeelden, which first appeared in 1618.
4. The same similarities between our painting and the painting in the Rijksmuseum can also be observed with the flanking figures in Banquet in the Open Air by Buytewech, recently acquired by the Mauritshuis (see Celebrating in the Golden Age, exhibition catalogue Haarlem, 2011/2012, pp. 78-79, cat. no. 12).