The present painting appears to be the most elaborate of the three representations of Langlois and portrays him as an art dealer, print publisher and amateur musician. Seated behind a cluttered table in a confined domestic interior reminiscent of a busy dealership on the rue Saint-Jacques, a middle-aged Langlois dressed in gentleman's attire unrolls a canvas for the viewer-cum-customer's inspection. A row of similarly rolled canvases dominate the back wall over which hang portrait miniatures, an empty frame and a pair of dividers. Prominently displayed on the foreground table that tilts slightly toward the picture plane so as to maximize the dealer's merchandise are a plaster cast of a female head, a leather-bound portfolio, an array of drawings and prints, sheet music, a recorder and the sourdeline (a type of bagpipe) with which Langlois liked to be associated. The instrument that he plays in the portrait by Van Dyck is only partially depicted in the right corner of the present composition, a possible commentary on the mature sitter who, as France's leading print publisher, has little time for pleasurable pastimes late in life.
The identification of the sitter with Langlois is based primarily on the resemblance of the features of this individual with those of the documented portraits of François Langlois by Van Dyck and Adriaen Hanneman. Langlois is known to have been proud of his abilities as a musician and in particular as a player of the sourdeline. He was portrayed with it by Van Dyck, it is present here, and a further painting of a Man with a sourdeline by Claude Vignon has been thought to depict Langlois (see P. Pacht Bassani, Claude Vignon (1593-1670), Paris, 1992, pp. 211-3, no.68).
Assuming this portrait is, as it seems, of François Langlois, the identity of the artist is not obvious. Scholars such as Keith Christiansen, have proposed Vignon as the author (a view rejected by Paola Pacht Bassani on the basis of photographs), while others such as Mina Gregori (who speculates that it might be by a Caravaggesque artist known as Il Maestro dei Giocatori) and Pierre Rosenberg have suggested that the author is Italian. A further suggestion is that it is by a northern artist working in Italy. Langlois was an art dealer who travelled to Italy and there would have been ample opportunity for him to have been painted by an artist there. On the other hand, the fact that he seems so clearly portrayed in his place of work suggests that he was painted in Paris, and therefore probably by a French artist, perhaps someone working in the orbit of Louis Le Nain.
A further possibility remains, that this is not a portrait of Langlois and is instead painted later in the century by an Italian artist, possibly working in a regional center north of Rome such as Bologna or Milan. It shows a feeling for naturalistic detail reminiscent of both the Bolognese and Lombard schools and perhaps these would be directions in which to look to unravel the mystery of the authorship of this intriguing picture.
This notwithstanding, the probability remains, that this is a portrait of Langlois and therefore painted between 1630 and 1647. The handling of the paint and the type of canvas suggest that it was painted in Italy, if so, then Rome would be the place in which a portrait of him such as this, would be the most likely to have been executed.
François Langlois, nicknamed 'Ciartres' after his birthplace, Chartres, was a well-known art dealer, publisher and amateur musician. Following a four year apprenticeship with the Paris bookseller Pierre-Louis Febvrier, Langlois travelled to Italy, where he befriended Claude Vignon and Anthony van Dyck (Vignon would become a godparent of one of Langlois' children). After a brief sojourn in London in 1624-5, where he worked as a paintings dealer and print collector for King Charles I, he returned to Paris and obtained a print publisher's license in 1638. Langlois opened his dealership on the rue Saint-Jacques 'Aux Colonnes d'Hercule', where he established himself as France's first important print publisher. Long after his death, his shop continued to thrive in the hands of his widow, Madeleine de Collemont. After Madeleine's death in 1655 Langlois' impressive stock of copper plates and engravings was bequeathed to her second husband, the eminent collector and publisher Pierre Mariette II.
Van Dyck portrayed his friend and fellow music aficionado Langlois in London, singing and playing the sourdeline, dressed in the costume of a 'Savoyard', a rural, itinerant musician depictions of whom were popularized by the Carracci (jointly, National Gallery, London and Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham; see S. J. Barnes et al., Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London, 2004, pp. 547-9, no. IV.153; fig. 1). Langlois first visited London in 1624-5 as a rising art dealer, a role he would maintain in the English capital throughout his career. The relaxed, informal mood of Van Dyck's portrait was unusual for the court portraitist to King Charles I, a true testament to an enduring friendship that first took root on Italian soil. Van Dyck's portrait was engraved, in 1645, by Jean Pesne with the following caption that clearly identifies the sitter: 'François Langlois natif de Chartres, libraire et marchand de tailles-douces à Paris, excellait à jouer de la musette et de plusieurs autres instruments' ('François Langlois, native of Chartres, bookseller and dealer in engravings in Paris, excelled at playing the musette and several other instruments').