Frans Hals was the preeminent portrait painter in Haarlem, the most important artistic center of Holland in the early part of the seventeenth century. He was famous for his uncanny ability to portray his subjects with relatively few bold brushstrokes, and often used informal poses to enliven his portraits. Even though the young man’s turned pose and the artist’s extremely free brushwork have a genrelike quality, this small panel may very well be a portrait of Hals’ teenage son Harmen, whose appearance later in life is known from a drawing in the Haarlem archives.
Hals frequently used an illusionistic oval framing device for small-scale portraits he painted in the 1610s and 1620s. Although some of these small portraits served as modelli for engraved portraits, no print related to this image seems to have been made. The close-up composition and informal pose allowed Hals to reinforce the dynamic, three-dimensionality of the young man, whose elbow projects beyond the painted picture frame into the viewer’s space.