After Frans Hals, Verspronck was the most accomplished portraitist in Haarlem from the 1630s until his death. He invariably drew a preliminary sketch of the sitter's head and collar on the primed support, and then carefully followed his underdrawing when applying layers of paint. This method, and Verspronck's use of a few standard compositional patterns, contrasts with Hals's much more direct approach.
In this portrait of an unknown sitter, dated 1645, the artist employs one of his standard compositional patterns of the 1640s. The design is similar to that of the Portrait of a Man, dated 1643, which has a pendant (both in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), and to the arrangement of several male portraits for which no pendant is known (see Liedtke 2007). The costume was badly damaged by overcleaning in the past, and early conservation efforts were hindered by misreading of the artist's own revisions. Verspronck usually followed a careful underdrawing (which is evident here as well) from which he rarely deviated while working up the paint layers. In this case, however, he modified the collar and perhaps a few other costume details, presumably at the patron's request. A lace collar with scalloped edges, which had covered more of the shoulders, was replaced by the present collar (through which the front of the lace collar is partly visible). This change in fashion is known from many Dutch portraits of the mid-1640s.
The man's right hand and cuff were completely overpainted at some point before the work was exhibited in 1909. Cleaning in 1954 revealed a more complicated arrangement, but the artist's intentions in the sleeves of the jacket, the cuffs, and the hands remained ambiguous until 2003–4, when the additions of 1954 (overpaint and synthetic varnish) were removed and a faithful restoration became possible.
The sleeves, open at the outer seams, are lined with a closely spaced row of small buttons, as is the front of the jacket. The opening at the sitter's right elbow reveals a purple lining, which is also visible at his right wrist where the sleeve is turned back under the lace cuff. The scalloped edge of the cuff folds down at the corner, and the edge of the tan glove turns down as well, showing a white lining inside. The cloak worn over the man's shoulder drapes snugly over his left arm, and is turned over at both edges to reveal a purple lining which matches that of the jacket. Two other costume refinements of the 1640s are the bow of black silk ribbon on the tall hat (the height of which was somewhat adjusted in the course of work) and the square collar (resembling a short cape) on the back of the cloak, which is bordered with black scalloped lace. As usual in Dutch dress of this period, the overall impression is one of understated luxury. Apart from the dark purple passages and the tan gloves, coloring is restricted mainly to the pinkish tones of the face, which is enlivened by the sitter's loose brown curls, a few streaks of shadow, and the merest hint of a smile.
A survey of Verspronck's half-length portraits of men demonstrates that the posing and foreshortening of the figure's arms frequently conform to a desired silhouette rather than to anatomical logic. In this picture and others, the hand or hands appear to have some invisible support, possibly an implied sword hilt under the cloak or the slinglike draping of the cloak itself.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): J VSpronc[k] [VS in monogram] a[n]no 1645.·.
?sale, Le Brun, Paris, April 14, 1784, no. 92, ?bought in; Wilhelm Funk, New York (in 1909); [French, New York]; Susan P. Colgate, Sharon, Conn. (by 1934–d. 1936)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Hudson-Fulton Celebration," September–November 1909, no. 140 (lent by Wilhelm Funk, New York).
Nashville. Fisk University. "[title not known]," April 20–August 15, 1951, no catalogue.
Atlanta University. "[title not known]," September 1, 1951–January 30, 1952, no catalogue.
New Orleans. Dillard University. "[title not known]," February 1–April 30, 1952, no catalogue.
Haarlem. Frans Halsmuseum. "Johannes Cornelisz. Verspronck: Leven en werken van een Haarlems portretschilder uit de 17-de eeuw," September 15–November 25, 1979, no. 60.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration: Catalogue of an Exhibition Held in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1909, vol. 1, p. 141, no. 140, ill. opp. p. 141, reproduces a photograph with the sitter's right hand and much of the costume overpainted.
L[ouise]. G. B[urroughs]. "A Portrait of a Man by Johannes Verspronck." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 32 (March 1937), p. 75, ill.
Rudolf E. O. Ekkart. Johannes Cornelisz. Verspronck: Leven en werken van een Haarlems portretschilder uit de 17-de eeuw. Exh. cat., Frans Halsmuseum. Haarlem, 1979, pp. 48, 101, no. 60, ill. p. 174, reproduces it after cleaning of 1954; suggests that it may be identified with a picture of this size and description in a Le Brun sale in Paris, April 14, 1784.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 2, pp. 908–9, no. 208, colorpl. 208.