Sunday, November 16, 2014

Bartholomeus van der Helst

Portrait of a Family
oil on canvas
235 x 345 cm
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Bartholomeus van der Helst (1613-1670), born in Haarlem, the son of a Haarlem innkeeper, was a Dutch portrait painter, active in Amsterdam. When he moved to Amsterdam in 1636, Rembrandt van Rijn was at the height of his popularity. The dazzling elegance of the Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck had reached Amsterdam, and the city's military heroes and the wealthy members of the regent class loved the new style, and Van der Helst quickly adapted himself to their tastes with the flattering portrayals in the style of Anthony van Dyck.

In the 1640s he took over from Rembrandt as the most popular portraitist in the city, his detailed, tasteful, and slightly flattering likenesses appealing more to the fashionable burghers than the Rembrandt's work, which was becoming more individual and introspective. As Rembrandt's work grew deeper and more personal, many patrons were demanding more elegant, less intense portraits. Patrons turned to Van der Helst, who firmly established his reputation in 1643. He was highly influential during his lifetime. For example, Rembrandt's talented pupils Bol and Flinck abandoned the style of their master in order to follow his more popular manner.

He died at Amsterdam in 1670. Upon his death, his widow offered all of his works for sale, including many large pieces, that are painted by himself as well as respected other masters, probably necessary because of the depressed Dutch economy. His colorful realism remained fashionable into the next century.