Aug. 19 Art Minute: Bartholomeus van der Helst, Self-Portrait
Leaning casually on a stone baluster in a wooded park, this man displays all the attributes of a gentleman of leisure. The sumptuous velvet, gold cord, and flamboyant lace sleeves proclaim his wealth and taste. The open collar with cords and tassels hanging loose was the height of chic. Bartholomeus van der Helst’s elegant style and smoothly rendered technique made him the most sought-after portraitist in Amsterdam in the mid-1600s, even eclipsing Rembrandt. He often presented his merchant-class clients in a countryside setting that implied land ownership outside the city. Such country dwellings carried implications of noble status—the ultimate goal of many wealthy townspeople. To underline this association with aristocracy, the man points to a hunting dog. Hunting was a pastime traditionally restricted to the nobility.
Since the Renaissance, artists too had aspired to the status of gentleman, seeking to distance their profession from common labor. The similarity of the man in this painting to known self-portraits by Van der Helst strongly suggests that this also depicts the artist himself.
This work is currently on view in Gallery 23.