Inspired by Dutch Caravaggesque painters such as Gerrit van Honthorst and Hendrick ter Brugghen, Hals painted pictures of carefree musicians during the mid- to late 1620s. Here a young man pours a last drop of red wine onto his thumbnail, a signal to the innkeeper that he needs a refill, and to the viewer that (according to a Dutch rhyme of the period) "The glass is empty. Time is up." While Hals's authorship cannot be doubted, the picture's appearance has been affected by changes made by the artist himself and by later restorers. For example, the collar on the shirt and the lute string crossing over the thumb (thus obscuring the gesture's meaning) are not original.
This work was probably painted by Hals about 1625. His authorship has occasionally been doubted, but condition problems and old restorations would appear to largely explain the picture's shortcomings. The paint surface is worn and the impasto has been slightly flattened during past lining. The stippled decoration on the collar and the lute strings over the proper left thumb are not original.
The strongest passages—the hair, the drapery folds, the highlights on the sleeve, the modeling of the face and hands, the use of stark shadows, and the description of the open mouth—are consistent in handling with contemporary genre paintings by Hals. There is a pentimento in the right background: a feather extending from the beret to the wineglass was painted out by the artist. Technical examination, including a cross section of the paint layers in this area, suggests that the artist blocked out the lute in approximately its present position, then painted it out with a brownish black layer of paint. The feather was then painted in. The lead white present in the feather was not completely dry when the neck of the lute was painted in its present position. The decision to insert a curtain in the background may have come at this stage. The orange was probably introduced at a late stage to balance the composition and to create an impression of receding space to the lower left. All this suggests that Hals had decided upon the boy's head and the arrangement of his hands and the glass from the start, but that other parts of the picture were revised during the course of work.
In his 1909 monograph, Moes introduced the title Le rubis sur l'ongle (The Ruby on the Fingernail), a slang phrase current in the seventeenth century. The "ruby" is a drop of red wine spilled onto the drinker's thumbnail from an upturned glass to show that it is empty.
[2011; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
?J. or F. Kamermans (until 1825; his sale, A. Lamme, Rotterdam, October 3, 1825, no. 47, for 75 florins to Lamme); James Lenox Naper, Lough Crew Castle, Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland (in 1872); Most Rev. James Bennett Keene, Bishop of Meath, Dublin (until 1906; sale, Dublin, fall 1906, sold for 3,800 gns. to Sulley); [Sulley and Co., London, from 1906]; [Dowdeswell & Dowdeswell, London]; [C. J. Wertheimer, London]; [Gimpel & Wildenstein, Paris and New York, until 1907; sold for $77,920 to Altman]; Benjamin Altman, New York (1907–d. 1913)
Dublin. location unknown. "Dublin Exhibition of Arts, Industries, and Manufactures," 1872, no. 104 (as "Boy with Glass," by Hals, lent by J. L. Naper).
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.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Frans Hals in the Metropolitan Museum," July 26–October 10, 2011, no catalogue.
"Portrait of a Young Man by Hals." Burlington Magazine 49 (April 1907), p. 3, ill. opp. p. 3, as "Young Man with Mandoline" by Frans Hals; states that it sold at auction in Dublin in fall 1906 for 3,800 guineas, and that it subsequently changed hands three times.
E[rnst]. W[ilhelm]. Moes. Frans Hals, sa vie et son œuvre. Brussels, 1909, p. 109, no. 210, as "Le Rubis sur l'ongle".
Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 3, London, 1910, p. 20, no. 74, p. 24, no. 86, as "The Finger-Nail Test (or, The Mandoline-Player with a Wine-Glass)"; gives provenance information; lists a painting of the same subject with slightly larger dimensions, included in the Kamermans sale of 1825 and possibly identical with the MMA work.
Handbook of the Benjamin Altman Collection. New York, 1914, pp. 28–29, no. 19, pp. 31–32, under no. 21, states that it was sold by the Bishop of Meath in 1906.
Wilhelm von Bode, ed. Frans Hals, His Life and Work. Berlin, 1914, vol. 1, p. 32, no. 57, pl. 24.
François Monod. "La Galerie Altman au Metropolitan Museum de New-York (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 5th ser., 8 (November 1923), pp. 300–301, ill., notes that the motif of the upturned wine glass is borrowed from one of the figures in "Banquet of the Officers of the Civic Guard of St. George" (Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem) of 1627.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Frans Hals, des meisters Gemälde. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1923, p. 310, ill. p. 59, dates it about 1627, comparing the color scheme to that of the militia company picture of that year and adding that one of the figures in that picture holds an upturned glass in a manner similar to the boy in this work; states that the model is probably the same one depicted in the "Merry Lute Player" (Harold Samuel Collection, Corporation of London).
Handbook of the Benjamin Altman Collection. 2nd ed. New York, 1928, pp. 61–62, no. 28, pp. 90–91, under no. 50.
Franz Dülberg. Frans Hals: Ein Leben und ein Werk. Stuttgart, 1930, p. 78.
W. R. Valentiner. Frans Hals Paintings in America. Westport, Conn., 1936, p. 9, no. 21, ill. [cat. section unpaginated], calls the model one of the artist's children; refers to the painting as "a sort of companion piece" to the "Merry Lute Player," while noting the different dimensions and supports of the two works.
Claus Grimm. Letter to Claus Virch. September 10, 1967, calls it a typical workshop product, if not of even later origin; compares the head with those in the "Merry Lute Player" and "Young Man and Woman in an Inn" (MMA, 14.40.602), and with that of the standing officer in the middle of the "Banquet of the Officers of the Civic Guard of St. George".
Seymour Slive. Frans Hals. Vol. 1, Text. London, 1970, p. 88, notes the influence of Ter Brugghen.
Seymour Slive. Frans Hals. Vol. 2, Plates. London, 1970, pl. 47, dates it about 1623–25.
Seymour Slive. Frans Hals. Vol. 3, Catalogue. London, 1974, pp. 16–17, no. 24, suggests that it may be identical with the work in the Kamermans sale.
E. C. Montagni inL'opera completa di Frans Hals. Milan, 1974, p. 118, no. 310, ill. p. 116.
Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 186.
Frima Fox Hofrichter. Judith Leyster: A Woman Painter in Holland's Golden Age. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1989, pp. 26, 57–58, no. 32, pl. 32, attributes it to Leyster and dates it about 1633–35; interprets it as a moralizing picture castigating drunkeness.
Walter Liedtke. "Dutch Paintings in America: The Collectors and Their Ideals." Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1990, fig. 36 (Altman gallery installation).
Claus Grimm. Frans Hals: The Complete Work. New York, 1990, p. 291 [German ed., "Frans Hals: Das Gesamtwerk," Stuttgart, 1989, p. 284], attributes it to the Circle of Hals.
Peter C. Sutton. Dutch & Flemish Seventeenth-Century Paintings: The Harold Samuel Collection. Cambridge, 1992, pp. 75, 78 n. 13.
Christiane Stukenbrock. Frans Hals—Fröhliche Kinder, Musikanten und Zecher: Eine Studie zu ausgewählten Motivgruppen und deren Rezeptionsgeschichte. PhD diss., Universität Köln. Frankfurt am Main, 1993, p. 248.
Important and Fine Old Master Pictures. Christie's, London. December 8, 1995, p. 58, under no. 34, refers to it in the entry for a painting of the same subject by Sweerts.
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 31–32, 35, 70, fig. 32 (Altman gallery photograph).
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. ix, 256 n. 3, pp. 269–72, no. 61, colorpl. 61; vol. 2, p. 562, as probably painted by Hals about 1625; considers it likely to be identical with the picture in the Kamermans sale.