Attr. Bartholomeus Van Der Helst, Portrait Of A Gentleman

Attr. Bartholomeus Van Der Helst, Portrait Of A Gentleman

An exceptionally fine 17th-century portrait of a gentleman attributed to Dutch painter, Bartholomeus van der Helst (1613-1670).

This exquisite piece is a masterclass by one of Amsterdam’s most illustrious artists. Note the attention to detail, particularly in the handling of the hair and skin. The skin tones are hyper-realistic and probably applied in thin glazes.

Fortunately, to support the attribution, the portrait has some interesting provenance relating to Dutch art dealer, Dorus Hermsen (1871-1931). Hermsen was also an artist but best known for his collection of Dutch old masters, which he housed at a historic property in The Hague. In Marjorie Bowen’s publication ‘De Nederlanden’, she refers to Hermsen’s fine taste.

“The [former] house and garden of Johan de Witt on den Kneuterdijk, which for a long time empty and desolate have now turned into one of the wealthiest private painting museums in the world, tastefully and judiciously decorated by the artist and antique dealer Dorus Hermsen. The most delicious treasures of the old Dutch School are displayed in the large, expansive halls where Johan de Witt lived and worked…”

It’s recorded that this portrait was acquired from Hermsen’s own collection in 1923 by the Norwegian-Danish seed wholesaler, Hjalmar Hartmann (1870-1945). Hartmann published his memoirs (titled 'Erindringer’) in 1950 and included a reference to this piece.

“Following a visit to Haag in 1923, I brought home several Dutch paintings originating from the renowned art dealer Dorus Hermsen's beautiful mansion in the middle of the city. From here comes, among others, [...] and a man's portrait by Barth v. d. Helst.”

Bartholomeus van der Helst was one of the foremost portraitists of his generation and gained more commissions than his better-known contemporary, Rembrandt. One of his early commissions was for a huge group scene, titled ’Civic Guard led by Captain Roelof Bicker and Lieutenant Jan Michielsz’, which was hung over the fireplace in the same room for which Rembrandt painted ‘The Night Watch’.

His flattering portraiture attracted wealthy patrons from Amsterdam and beyond and his elegant brushwork is often compared to Anthony van Dyck’s (1599-1641).

Like several other Dutch artists of his generation, van der Helst lived above his means - despite being continually popular. It’s noted that his large home was decorated with many paintings from other leading artists, such as Adriaen Brouwer (1605-1638) and Frans Floris (1519-1570). Following his death in 1670, his wife was forced to sell most of his collection.

This truly beautiful piece is housed within a later wooden frame and we’re happy to include a copy of the written provenance.

Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 24½” x 27½” / 62cm x 70cm
Year of creation: c. 1660
Provenance: Denmark
Condition: Overall, very presentable with a fine network of aged craquelure as you would expect. The portrait may have been lightly restored in places yet this is not visible under UV due to varnish. There’s an area of slight discolouration to the right of the subject’s head.
Artist’s auction highlight: £400,000 achieved for ‘Portrait of a gentleman’ at Christie’s in 2010. £316,890 achieved for ‘Portrait of a gentleman’ at Sotheby’s in 2018. For comparison in terms of subject and size, a bust-length portrait of a man sold in 2020 for £10,744.

Conservation & History

We care profoundly about our role as custodians and every piece in the collection has been assessed by our conservator. When required, we undertake professional restoration carefully using reversible techniques and adopt a light touch to retain the aged charm of each work. We also restore frames rather than replace them as many are original and selected by the artists themselves.

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