Bartholomeus van der Helst (Haarlem c. 1613-1670 Amsterdam)
Bartholomeus van der Helst (Haarlem c. 1613-1670 Amsterdam)

Portrait of a gentleman, three-quarter-length, in a black coat and shirt with lace collar and cuffs, holding gloves in his left hand, leaning against a chair

Bartholomeus van der Helst (Haarlem c. 1613-1670 Amsterdam)
Portrait of a gentleman, three-quarter-length, in a black coat and shirt with lace collar and cuffs, holding gloves in his left hand, leaning against a chair
oil on canvas, arched top
51 x 39 7/8 in. (129.4 x 101.3 cm.)
signed and dated 'B. vanderhelst / 1645' (lower right)
Sir Joseph Benjamin Robinson, Bt. (1840-1929), South Africa; his sale, Christie's, London, 6 July 1923, lot 61 (unsold), and by descent to his daughter,
Princess Labia, South Africa, and by descent until 2001.
Anonymous sale [The Property of a Gentleman]; Sotheby's, London, 12 July 2001, lot 54.
with Johnny van Haeften, London.
Private collection, Sydney, Australia, 2002-2005.
with Johnny van Haeften, London, when acquired by the present owner in December 2005.
H. Shipp, 'Treasures of the Robinson Collection', Apollo, LXVIII, August 1958, p. 42.
A. Scharf, 'The Robinson Collection', The Burlington Magazine, C, September 1958, p. 304, as one of 'three characteristic and spirited portraits by Bartholomeus van der Helst'.
J. van Gent, Bartholomeus van der Helst (ca.1613-1670) Een studie naar zijn leven en werk', Zwolle, 2011, p. 180, no. 26.
London, Royal Academy, The Robinson Collection, 1958, no. 5.
Cape Town, National Gallery of South Africa, The Joseph Robinson Collection, 1959, no. 38.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Sammlung Sir Joseph Robinson, 1840-1929, 1962, no. 24.
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, on loan, July 2002-January 2004.

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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair

Lot Essay

This imposing portrait was executed at a key moment in the artist’s career, when van der Helst was beginning to supersede Rembrandt as the leading portrait painter of the ruling class in Amsterdam, a position he maintained until his death in 1770. It was painted shortly after the completion in circa 1642/3 of his celebrated monumental group portrait for the Kloveniersdoelen (Musketeers’ Hall): The Civic Guard Company of Capt. Roelof Bicker and Lt. Jan Michielsz. Blaeuw (now Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum; part of the same series as Rembrandt’s Night-Watch), which firmly established van der Helst’s reputation in the city. He owed his popularity and success to the prevailing taste for elegance and refinement of technique, as typified by the present portrait, at a moment when Rembrandt’s handling was becoming increasingly free, and his subjects progressively brooding and introspective.

The identity of the sitter is not known, but his affluence and status are asserted by his supremely self-assured pose and his fashionable attire. Shown in three-quarter-length, his frontal pose indicates that his portrait probably served as an individual commission rather than as a pendant to a portrait of his wife, in which he would more likely be inclined to his left to face her. The portrait showcases van der Helst’s technical brilliance, in the masterful rendering of the different fabrics and textures of the costume, from the thick black coat to the crisp lace of the collar and cuffs, and in the delicately modelled flesh tones of the face and hands, which display a remarkable truth to nature.

Note on the Provenance
The South African gold-mining magnate Sir Joseph Benjamin Robinson, 1st Bt., put together a magnificent collection of pictures at Dudley House, Park Lane, which he had rented from the Earl of Dudley in 1894. In 1910, Sir Joseph gave up the lease of Dudley House and returned to Africa. His collection went into store and was subsequently entered for sale at Christie’s on 6 July 1923. On seeing his collection on display during the view for the sale, however, the now elderly collector’s passion was rekindled. No longer happy to part with the pictures and yet unable to stop the sale, he placed high reserve prices on each lot with the hope that he might ‘buy them in’ at the sale. Only 11 out of the 116 lots were sold and this was one of the many distinguished pictures he managed to retain and subsequently pass on to his daughter, Princess

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