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Bartholomeus van der Helst

Portrait of a Gentleman


Bartholomeus van der Helst
Haarlem 1613 – Amsterdam 1670


Portrait of a Gentleman




Oil on canvas


164.9 x 133.1 cm


Gift of Louis-Joseph Forget Estate, inv. 1918.186


Western Art

Bartholomeus van der Helst was undoubtedly well acquainted with the paintings of Hals, whose dynamic brushwork enduringly impacted his style. With the rising fortunes and possibilities for commissions that Amsterdam offered, the young painter moved to that city. Van der Helst became the pre-eminent portraitist of Amsterdam’s bourgeois militia companies and of families which were particularly appreciative of his group portraits. The direct, gallant, self-assured poses, the vivid colours and the refined, smooth brushstrokes of his portraits are appealing. The affluence typical of the artist’s subjects, whom he tended to paint flatteringly and with a painterly panache, is underlined in the expensive pendulum clock, often associated with mortality but here undoubtedly primarily included as a prize possession and indication of personal wealth. The view onto a stormy sky opens up the compositional field of the work. The water spaniel creates both an endearing and personalizing touch — as well as offering a demonstration of the artist’s accomplished, controlled brushwork. The informal off-centre positioning of the subject, occupying virtually the breadth of the canvas, makes it likely that the portrait was created as an independent work, without a pendant. The expensive black silk satin in which our subject is attired was fashionable among wealthy Dutch Calvinists.

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