Born and baptized in Dordrecht, Ferdinand Bol arrived in Amsterdam around 1636, where he would soon become one of Rembrandt’s most gifted and accomplished pupils. He remained in Rembrandt’s studio through the early 1640s, and may even have worked as an assistant on some of Rembrandt’s own works; their closeness, in any case, is attested to by a document concerning the inheritance of Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh (1612-1642), for which Bol served as a witness in 1640. By the mid-1650s, Bol had secured major independent success, and was unrivalled by any of his contemporaries in Amsterdam in receiving official commissions.
Like that of his esteemed master, Bol’s oeuvre consists largely of history pictures, portraits, and genre figures dressed in exotic costumes. This captivating portrait of a handsome young man dressed in velvet robes and a gorget dates to the second half of the 1640s, when Bol was most closely observing the work of his teacher. Unsurprisingly, it reveals the depth of Rembrandt’s influence on the younger painter: the quiet, subdued mood; subtle yet rich palette used to describe a variety of textures; and the application of paint in thick, bold strokes to emphasize the drama of light moving across the shimmering brocade on the sitter's sleeve are all materialized under Rembrandt’s spell.
This unpublished, rare early work is a major addition to the artist’s oeuvre. When it was rediscovered by scholars in 2001, Werner Sumowski immediately confirmed the traditional attribution to Ferdinand Bol on the basis of a color transparency and dated it to c. 1645-1650, comparing it to the artist’s magnificent Self-portrait of 1646 in the Dordrechts Museum, Dordrecht (W. Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schuler, Landau, 1983, I, no. 135) and his Young Man in the Window of 1647 in the Robarts Collection, London (Sumowski, op. cit., VI, no. 2205). He also noted that the present work is among “the best portraits of the ‘Fantasy Costume’ paintings” (“den besten Porträts mit Phantasie-Kostüm”) and described it as among the finest works by the artist that he knew (written correspondence, 17 March 2001).
Although its early history remains unknown, this bewitching portrait made its way in the 19th or early 20th century into the collection of Edward Rogers Wood (1866-1941) and his wife Euphemia (1867-1950). Both Edward Wood and his broth Frank P. Wood were prominent Canadian financiers and art collectors, whose distinguished collections of Old Master paintings numbered among the earliest and most important of their kind in Toronto. To this date, Frank P. Wood remains the single most generous donor to the Art Gallery of Ontario, having gifted masterpieces by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Anthony van Dyck, Thomas Gainsborough, Titian, Jacob van Ruisdael, to name just a few. After the deaths of Edward and Euphemia Wood, the present work passed by inheritance within the family for several generations, and is today offered for the first time at auction having returned to the market after a century or more in private hands.