Much has been written about Frans Hals’ bravura brushwork, which is the overriding hallmark of his style. Hals was able to create an impression of richness and density of texture with a remarkable economy of brushstrokes, and although we do not in fact know how quickly he painted, his brushwork conveys a forceful impression of speed of execution, without hesitation or revision. The present sitter’s right hand, for example, which vanishes beneath his coat, is mostly formed of a single thick stroke of the brush.
Following cleaning, Grimm’s initial view was that this painting dates from around 1650-51, but subsequently both Grimm and Slive (see below) have arrived at a consensus that it should be dated around or just before the mid-1640s. This would make it approximately coeval with the three-quarter-length portraits of Paulus Verschuur, dated 1643, in New York, and Adriaen van Ostade of circa 1644 in Washington, and the bust-length portrait of Willem Coymans, dated 1645, also in Washington.1 More recently, Pieter Biesboer has broken with this consensus, proposing an earlier dating of around 1638 or before.2 He compares it with the half-length portrait of Claes Duyst in New York, of circa 1635-38. Duyst wears a similar elaborate lace collar, and the detailed photograph of his face published by Grimm (and indeed the detail of the oval portrait of an unidentified man of circa 1638 in Frankfurt) does lend support to his argument.3 Biesboer further suggests that a portrait of an unidentied woman in Berlin on a canvas of approximately similar dimensions, also dated circa 1635-38, may be a pendant to the present work, although the proportions and mise-en-page of the Berlin painting are quite different, and she has a pendant, also in Berlin.4 Support for Biesboer's dating can be found in the costume of the sitter. Marieke de Winkel has kindly pointed out that the deep scalloping of the Flemish bobbin lace collar is typical of the years 1635-38, and its patterning much less dense than its usage in circa 1640 and later.5
On the basis of old photographs, both of the great late 20th-century scholars of Frans Hals, Claus Grimm and Seymour Slive, had at one time rejected the attribution to Hals of this work: Grimm relegating it to Johannes Hals, and Slive seeing it as probably a copy of a lost work of the first half of the 1640s.6 Following careful cleaning by Thomas Brachert in Zurich in 1973-74, which removed much accumulated over-paint and revealed the true pictorial quality of the work, Claus Grimm, who had arranged for the work to be done, recognised Hals’ authorship straightaway. Seymour Slive did not have the opportunity to examine the painting in the original until September 1984, when he was able to study it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He immediately confirmed in a letter dated 1 October 1984 that in his view it is 'an original work by Frans Hals painted in the early or mid-1640s', and in 1989 he repeated in print his view that it is autograph.7 All scholars now accept the work as autograph, and all scholars other than Biesboer date it to the early to mid-1640s.
This picture will be included in Claus Grimm's forthcoming revised and expanded catalogue raisonné of Frans Hals' work as no. A1-114, datable to 1645-46.
1 New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. 26.101.11; see W. Liedtke, Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven and London 2007, vol. I, pp. 288-92, no. 66, reproduced in colour; Washington, National Gallery of Art, inv. 1937.1.70 & 1937.1.71; see A.K. Wheelock, Jr., Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, New York and Oxford 1995, pp. 79-85, nos 70 & 71, both reproduced in colour; see also Slive 1974, vol. 3, p. 75, no. 144, reproduced vol. 2, plate 247 (New York), vol. 3, pp. 78-79, 99-100, no. 192, reproduced vol. 2, plate 303, vol. 3, pp. 86-87, no. 167, reproduced vol. 2, plate 256 (Washington); see also Grimm 1990, under Literature, pp. 286-88, nos 118, 123 and 127, all reproduced.
2 See Biesboer in Munich 2008, under Literature, p. 104.
3 New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. 49.7.33; see Liedtke 2009, pp. 285-88, no. 65, reproduced in colour; see also Slive 1974, vol. 3, pp. 63-64, no. 119, reproduced vol. 2, plates 195, 197; Grimm 1990, pp. 282 and 284, nos 81 and 97, reproduced colour plates 59 and 60b.
4 Berlin, SMPK, Gemäldegalerie; see Slive 1974, vol. 3, p. 53, nos 89 and 90, reproduced vol. 2, plates 150 and 151; see also Grimm 1990, p. 281, no. 78.
5 Email dated 28 October 2013. Dr De Winkel discussed a pair of Frans Hals portraits of circa 1638, in which the man wears an almost identical costume to the present sitter: M. de Winkel, in Face Book. Studies on Dutch and Flemish Portraiture of the 16th-18th Centuries, Liber Amicorum for Rudolf E.O. Ekkart, Leiden 2012, pp. 141-150, figs 4 and 5.
6 See under Literature, Grimm 1971 and Slive 1974.
7 Letter to Gerald Guterman dated 1 October 1984. A photocopy is available upon request. In an email dated 14 Octover 2013, Professor Slive granted permission for his letter to be quoted; see also Slive 1989 under Literature.
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