Simple yet refined, this portrait of a cavalier displays Van Dyck's skill in portraying Europe's elite in the 1630s. The composition, a half-length depiction of a man in black with a white collar, contains only a few basic elements, yet Van Dyck has nevertheless captured the sitter's effortless poise. He turns his face slightly to the left, his curly hair in fetching disarray. With a relaxed gloved hand on the hilt of his sword he exudes a nonchalant air of confidence. Van Dyck had perfected this form in the decade before, during his time in Italy, in portraits like that of Lucas van Uffel now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. no. 14.40.619), in which the sitter has the same ruffled hair, angled visage and elongated fingers.
Van Dyck had extensive experience as a portraitist for Europe's ruling class by the time he produced this picture. Having trained with Peter Paul Rubens, he had moved to work for James I of England by 1620. He traveled extensively, visiting Italy before returning to Antwerp to serve as court painter to Archduchess Isabella; in 1632 he resided in England, where he was knighted by Charles I. The present portrait is dated 1634, at which point Van Dyck was living in the Netherlands. He returned, however, to London the following year; thus, this work could have been created in either locale. Erik Larsen speculates that Van Dyck painted the present portrait after his return to England (Larsen 1988, op. cit., p. 374). In comparing it to other portraits from this period, the brushwork bears a resemblance to the full-length portrait of Philippe Le Roy of 1630 in the Wallace Collection, London (inv. P94), similarly inscribed with the age of the sitter and date.
This work was in the collection of Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild in Vienna and passed through the family by descent. It may have hung in Schillersdorf castle, the Rothschild residence in Silesia, as it bore a label and inventory number of this castle along with the family coat of arms (Kimbell, 1972, op. cit., p. 67). During World War II, it was seized by National Socialists. Recovered from a salt mine near the Loser Plateau, Austria in 1945, it was returned to the family. In 1959, the painting entered the collection of the Kimbell Art Foundation in Fort Worth, Texas. In a letter dated 14 December 1971, Michael Jaffé confirmed the attribution to Van Dyck (see Kimbell, 1972, op. cit., p. 66).