This book is the catalogue of a small exhibition held at the Wallace Collection in London, centered on the dashing portrait of a young man signed and dated by Hals in 1624 and nicknamed by nineteenth-century admirers The Laughing Cavalier. Chapters by Wallace Collection curator Lelia Packer provide a short biography and overview of Hals’s development as a portraitist (with emphasis on works in the exhibition) and trace The Laughing Cavalier’s history, significance, and critical fortunes. Packer shows how the purchase of this painting in 1865 by Richard, 4th Marquess of Hertford, for the sensational price of £51,000 (more than six times the estimate) marked a pivotal moment in the revival of interest in Hals. Bequeathed to the British nation by the widow of the Marquess’s heir, Sir Richard Wallace, the portrait remains one of the most celebrated objects in The Wallace Collection. The book concludes with an essay by Packer and Ashok Roy on the painting’s construction and a survey by Roy of Hals’s technical development. A short appendix summarizes the Cavalier‘s provenance.
The primary goal of the exhibition was clearly to celebrate the Wallace painting, and the installation of thirteen “male portraits” seems designed with this focus in mind. The historical construction of masculinity itself must be pieced together from granular descriptions of specific works, as, for instance, the statement that hats like the one held by Thieleman Roosterman (1634, Cat. 8, Cleveland Museum of Art) could be “a sign of authority and male supremacy” (20). Packer’s careful analysis of costume is a strong point, connecting pictorial elements of dress with rare extant artefacts. For the “cavalier”, she expands on previous interpretations of the emblematic love imagery embroidered on the jacket. This writer shares her skepticism (53) about Pieter Biesboer’s tentative identification of the sitter as Roosterman; the two likenesses appear quite different. Packer points instead to connections with French fashion and Italian lacemaking to suggest that the “cavalier” was a wealthy bachelor whose family originated in Flanders, like those of many Hals patrons and the artist himself.
Discussions of individual paintings, while articulate and well observed, are more concerned with Hals’s stylistic development than with the people who chose him to represent them. Roosterman, for instance, is acknowledged as a “successful Haarlem textile merchant and passionate art collector” and the father of nine children (20), but more could be said about his role within a lively community that included other wealthy merchants such as Willem van Heythuysen, whose two portraits by Hals (Munich, Alte Pinakothek, 1625, and private collection, 1634, neither exhibited) provide a textbook case in formal vs. informal modes of representation. As executor of his friend’s estate and first regent of the hofje constructed on the site of Heythuysen’s summer residence, Roosterman shared the charitable legacy for which Heythuysen is still remembered in Haarlem.
The merchant and VOC agent Pieter van den Broucke, the subject of a bravura half-length portrait painted around 1633 (Cat. 4; London, Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House), left a darker legacy that goes unmentioned in the catalogue. Packer devotes a paragraph to Van den Broucke’s seventeen years of service with the Dutch East India Company (VOC), for which he received the gold chain he wears in the portrait (12). She does not mention that his colonial career, which took him from Persia to Indonesia, included trafficking in enslaved African people and fathering two children with enslaved Indian women. She does not quote the journal, published in 1634 from a manuscript he probably edited while Hals was at work on his portrait, in which Van den Broucke describes the purchase in Cape Verde of a ten-year old Black girl. He expresses surprise at her mother’s lack of emotion during the exchange, but this glimmer of moral sensitivity does not forestall the transaction.
It should be said that some attention was given to VOC colonialism and related issues in digital programming related to the exhibition. In the multimedia visitor’s guide, the entry on the portrait of Van den Broucke featured discussions of the VOC by historian Oscar Gelderblom and of the slave trade by Maria Holtrop, Curator of History at the Rijksmuseum and a contributor to that museum’s recent exhibition, Slavery. In a virtual introduction to the exhibition presented for Friends of Kenwood House, where the Van den Broucke portrait resides, Packer reflects on details of Van den Broucke’s biography in the context of her own research journey (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpzgNnQj1w4). However, these resources are ephemeral in comparison with the catalogue, which will remain on library shelves as the document of record for the project. There, Packer describes how Hals depicts Van den Broucke as “a man of the world, brimming with self-confidence” (12). She illustrates the print after the portrait engraved by Adriaen Matham as evidence of a personal connection: both Matham and Van den Broucke were witnesses at the baptism of Hals’s daughter Susanna in 1634 (fig 1.10, pp. 22, 24). The vivid informality of the portrait may thus be attributed not only to Hals’s technical skill but also to the painter’s familiarity with his client. Packer does not mention that Matham’s print served as the frontispiece to Van den Broucke’s published journal. If, as seems likely, Hals was aware of Van den Broucke’s exploits, it would be anachronistic to imagine that he found them as troubling as some modern viewers might, but one wonders about the organizers of the exhibition. Presented with this biographical information in today’s culture of historical reappraisal, did they consider excluding Van den Broucke’s portrait from their highly selective checklist? Even if not, this case offers a powerful opportunity to confront the ethical problems inherent in valorizing the portrait of such an individual.
In an exhibition devoted to the work of a single portraitist, the stylistic development of the artist is necessarily part of the story. However, Karel van Mander’s famous dismissal of portraiture as a lucrative distraction from history painting reminds us that for the people who commissioned and sat for them, early modern portraits (even those by talented artists) were first and foremost testaments to the people they depicted. In modern scholarship, portraits have gained currency as demonstrations of artistic skill and reflections of generic ideals. While this shift may arise in part from the fact that so many portraits have lost their identifications, it does not, in my view, convey permission to ignore biographical facts where known. As seventeenth-century poets and theorists were well aware, visual portraiture may never fully depict the “inner man”. Yet, the more historical evidence we have, the better we can probe the tensions between artistic creativity, social convention, and personal agency that distinguish portraiture from other artistic endeavours. A compact exhibition like this one, with its focus on portraits of a small number of individuals, could have balanced the equation with richer biographical data (on Van den Broucke and others) to situate Hals’s singular achievement more thoroughly within the artist’s social network. Without engaging in judgmental “presentism”, such an approach could also explore how sociocultural values and identity construction have evolved over time. It will be interesting to see whether the more comprehensive Hals exhibition forthcoming in Amsterdam, London and Berlin follows the same traditional path or strikes a tone more reflective of contemporary concerns.
Stephanie S. Dickey
 See James D. LaFleur, intro., trans. and ed., Pieter van den Broucke’s Journal of Voyages to Cape Verde, Guinea and Angola (1605-1612), London: Hakluyt Society, 2000, esp. pp. 10-11, 39. Editions published in Haarlem and Amsterdam in 1634 present edited versions of portions of the original manuscript now in the library at the University of Leiden.  See, as a comparative example, Epco Runia and David de Witt, eds., Rembrandt’s Social Network, Family, Friends and Acquaintances, Amsterdam: Rembrandthuis, 2019.