This portrait is a study for the figure who gazes out from the far right of Velázquez's Surrender of Breda (ca. 1635, Museo del Prado, Madrid). That large canvas, depicting one of the most famous military successes in Philip IV's reign, integrates a number of portraits. Although it has been argued that this man is none other than the artist, scholars have questioned whether the painter would have dared to include himself as a bystander at the historic military victory. The surviving evidence suggests that Velázquez rarely made studies for his larger works and did not make oil studies for the other figures in Surrender at Breda. However, a preparatory step such as this work would have made it easier for the artist to include an image of himself in the picture. The canvas may have remained in his studio; a "portrait of Diego Velázquez, clothes to be finished" is listed in a posthumous inventory of the artist's possessions.
The picture can only be traced back to the early nineteenth century, when, as the work of Anthony van Dyck, it was owned by Johann Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Wallmoden-Gimborn (1736–1811), the illegitimate son of King George II of Great Britain and his mistress, Amalie von Wallmoden, who was created Countess of Yarmouth. Raised at the court of St. James, Johann Ludwig made the Grand Tour in 1765 and then settled in Hanover, where he built a castle, the Wallmoden-Schloss, to house his collection of antiquities. It may have been at this time that he acquired the picture. In 1818 his son, Ludwig Georg Thedel, sold the portrait to David Bernhard Hausmann and it was in that collection that, in 1854, a British collector-connoisseur, Sir Hugh Hume Campbell, saw the work and first identified it as by Velázquez. The leading Velázquez scholar August Mayer came upon the painting in the museum at Hanover, where it had been put on deposit by its owner, George V, King of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Duke of Cumberland. Mayer published it in 1917 as a self-portrait by Velázquez, basing the identity of the model on his resemblance to a figure standing at the far right of Velázquez's famous Surrender of Breda in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, a work of the mid-1630s (see Additional Images, fig. 1, for a photograph from Mayer 1917). At the time, the figure in the Prado painting was widely considered to be a self-portrait. That the man in the MMA portrait is the same is not open to dispute, but who he is remains a matter of speculation: no documents identify the figures in the Surrender of Breda and the only certain self-portraits of the artist are later in date (in the Museo de Bellas Artes, Valencia, and, most famously, in Las Meninas in the Museo del Prado, Madrid). Mayer subsequently retracted his attribution of the MMA picture to Velázquez, only to reaffirm it when, in 1926, he saw the picture, which had been much overpainted, in a cleaned state. In 1955 Mayer's attribution was questioned and in 1963 the leading Velázquez scholar López-Rey catalogued the picture as a "school piece rather close to Velázquez's manner." The MMA changed its attribution to workshop of Velázquez in 1979. What was not recognized was the degree to which a thick, discolored varnish and over fastidious restoration following the cleaning in 1925 camouflaged the real qualities of the picture. A cleaning and restoration undertaken in the summer of 2009 (see Technical Notes) vindicated Mayer's initial impression and revealed an autograph picture of exceptional freshness and quality. An exhibition was mounted in the fall of that year to re-introduce the picture, accompanied by a catalogue with an essay by the Velázquez scholar Jonathan Brown. His attribution of the picture to Velázquez has been widely accepted.
This is an informal portrait rather than a highly finished work, with the head brought to a higher degree of finish than the torso and pale gray background. Was it conceived as an independent portrait, or was it, rather, painted as a study with a view to including the sitter in the Surrender of Breda, which contains many portraits? Can the identification of the figure as Velázquez be dismissed out of hand, since in the Surrender of Breda he appears as an observer rather than a direct participant in the action and looks out at the viewer in the way often associated with the insertion of a self-portrait? In the absence of documents, the matter remains highly speculative. There is, moreover, the question of his resemblance (or non-resemblance) to bona fide portraits of Velázquez and the fact that in the Surrender of Breda he is attired like other members of the Spanish contingent. Under these circumstances, the MMA has retained the title Portrait of a Man.
For the record, contemporary sources mention the existence of the following self portraits: one in the collection of Velázquez's teacher and father-in-law, Francisco Pacheco, said to have been painted in Rome in 1630 in the manner of Titian (see Pacheco's 1638 manuscript, "Arte de la pintura," 1956 ed., vol. 1, p. 160; vol. 2, p. 154; and López Rey 1963, no. 174); "a half length portrait of the painter Velázquez, by his own hand" listed in the 1655 inventory of the collection of the Marqués de Leganés; and a self portrait listed in the posthumous inventory of Velázquez's possessions: "un retrato de Diego de Belazquez, por acauar el bestido" (a portrait of Diego Velázquez, clothes to be finished; for both, see Gómez Moreno, in Varia velazqueña, 1960, vol. 1, p. 691; vol. 2, p. 399; and López Rey 1963, nos. 174, 175).
[Keith Christiansen 2010]
Prior to the conservation treatment in 2009, Velázquez’s Portrait of a Man was a painting distorted not only by degraded varnish and excessive, discolored restoration but also by earlier attempts to change its character.
A restoration undertaken in 1925 sought to suppress aspects that could be perceived as unfinished or worn, particularly in the background and hair. This was achieved by the broad toning of thin areas in the background and doublet and by overpainting original changes in the contours of the hair at the left side and top of the head. The varnish used at this time gradually oxidized, turning brown and less transparent. Subsequent layers of varnish were added in 1953 and 1965. Over time these coatings also degraded, thus further obscuring the painting’s qualities. Eventually the portrait was regarded as a workshop effort of limited interest and importance.
In the 2009 intervention the layers of discolored varnish and excessive restoration were carefully removed revealing a work of quite extraordinary vigor and freshness. Although the painting is worn in places, the abbreviated, loose, and free handling was the artist’s intention. Consequently, only a minimum amount of retouching was undertaken to suppress a few small paint losses in the background and some of the more prominent and distracting areas of later abrasion.
X-radiography reveals the entire structure of a painting, not only the paint layers and ground application but also the stretcher and tacks. The crest of George V King of Hannover and a former owner of the picture, is painted on the reverse of the canvas and can be seen in the lower right of the x-ray.
The portrait is painted on quite a densely woven canvas support that has been covered with a pinkish-buff colored ground or preparatory layer that was applied to the whole support prior to painting. It filled the texture of the canvas weave, made the support less absorbent and established an overall color and tone that the artist could exploit in the subsequent painting process. In the x-radiograph, random, arcing strokes suggest that the ground was applied with a large flat spatula or knife, typical of Velázquez’s working practice.
Traces of the position of the original strainer can be observed along the top and right edges of the x-radiograph suggesting that the canvas was cut from a larger, previously grounded piece of fabric. It appears that the painting was only stretched in its final format after it had been completed, since paint strokes from the main composition continue on to the tacking margins.
Using a brush on top of the pinkish-buff ground Velázquez executed a broad line sketch of the principal forms with a brownish-black paint. Some of these lines can still be seen around the contour of the sitter’s torso, and the long strokes have in places a broken quality where they have been dragged across the canvas weave. In the bottom left corner, a brush line that appears to record the raised position of the arm has been painted over but is still partially visible. If this were indeed a self-portrait, it may be an inadvertent record of the artist holding up his palette. Following the brush line sketch the artist blocked in the general forms of the figure tonally using a somewhat thinner brownish black paint mixture. He then brushed a warm gray color up and around the figure to anchor its position and provide a greater sense of volume and depth. At this early stage a change was made to the sitter’s pose: it would appear that the head was repositioned lower and turned more in profile. This is difficult to interpret with accuracy but certainly the hair was changed at the top and to the left of the sitter’s head.
The doublet was given substance with the application of a slightly more opaque gray paint which modeled the volumes of the chest, shoulder, and sleeve. Boldly applied black strokes were then added to indicate the folds, details of tailoring, and the buttons. A cold gray has been pulled around the neck of the sitter and a few cursory but perfectly placed thin lines of white paint brilliantly evoke the orientation and rigidity of the collar.
Framing the face, the hair is treated in a similarly loose and spirited manner. In contrast, the actual face, though still displaying a virtuosity of handling and sureness of touch, has been observed with a searing intensity and concentration. The brownish-black tonal blocking-in of the first stage is visible in the half shadows of the face: under the highly distinctive heavy brow and below the jaw. Gradually, more opaque pinkish layers of paint were added to sculpt the features, often exploiting the optical effects of thin and thickly applied layers over the initial dark blocking-in to create a wonderful interplay of warm and cool tones. Finally, thickly applied highlights pull portions of the face into focus and provide a remarkably palpable sense of the effect of light falling across the sitter's skin.
[Extracted from the Condition and Treatment Report by Michael Gallagher, 2010]
Johann Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Wallmoden-Gimborn (until d. 1811); his son, Ludwig Georg Thedel, Feld-Marschall Graf von Wallmoden-Gimborn (1811–18; sold to Hausmann); David Bernhard Hausmann, Hanover (1818–57; cat., 1831, no. 257; sold to George V); George V, King of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale (1857–d. 1878; cat., 1857, no. 257); his son, Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale (1878–d. 1923; on loan to the Provinzial-Museum, Hanover; cats., 1891, no. 581; 1902, no. 581; 1905, no. 469); his son, Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1923–25); [Leo Blumenreich, Berlin, 1925; sold to Duveen]; [Duveen, Paris, London, and New York, 1925–26; sold for $225,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1926–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 43; 1943, no. 42)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Spanish Paintings from El Greco to Goya," February 17–April 1, 1928, no. 63 (as a self-portrait by Velázquez, lent by Jules S. Bache).
Brooklyn Museum. "Exhibition of Spanish Painting," October 4–31, 1935, no. 54 (as a self-portrait by Velázquez, lent by Jules Bache).
New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 395 (as a self-portrait by Velázquez, lent by the Jules S. Bache collection).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 42.
Tokyo National Museum. "Treasured Masterpieces of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," August 10–October 1, 1972, no. 77.
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Treasured Masterpieces of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 8–November 26, 1972, no. 77.
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 31.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 31.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Velázquez Rediscovered," November 17, 2009–February 7, 2010, no catalogue.
Detroit Institute of Arts. "Five Spanish Masterpieces," June 21–August 19, 2012, no catalogue.
Madrid. Museo Nacional del Prado. "La obra invitada: 'Retrato de caballero', Velázquez," October 19, 2012–January 27, 2013, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art [The Met Breuer]. "Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible," March 18–September 4, 2016, unnumbered cat. (colorpl. 63).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Velázquez Portraits: Truth in Painting," November 4, 2016–March 14, 2017, no catalogue.
Verzeichniss der Gräflich-Wallmodenschen Gemälde-Sammlung, welche am 1 Sept. des laufenden Jahres und im den folgenden wochen zu Hannover meistbietend verkauft werden soll. Hanover, 1818, p. 14, no. 43, as a portrait of a man, allegedly by Van Dyck; states in the foreword that the collection was put together by the deceased Duke of Wallmoden-Gimborn [i.e., Johann Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Wallmoden-Gimborn (1736–1811)].
B[ernhard]. Hausmann. Verzeichniss der Hausmann'schen Gemählde-Sammlung in Hannover. Braunschweig, 1831, p. VI n. 5, p. 129, no. 257, lists it as a portrait of a man by Van Dyck; includes it among works he acquired at the Wallmoden sale in 1818.
Verzeichniss der von Seiner Majestät dem Könige angekauften Hausmann'schen Gemälde-Sammlung in Hannover. Hanover, 1857, p. 28, no. 257, as a self-portrait by Velázquez.
G. Parthey. Deutscher Bildersaal. Vol. 2, L–Z. Berlin, 1864, p. 702, no. 23, lists it as a self-portrait by Velázquez from his best period; erroneously as still in the Hausmann collection.
O[skar]. Eisenmann inKatalog der zum Ressort der Königlichen Verwaltungs-Kommission gehörigen Sammlung . . . im Provinzial-Museumsgebäude . . . zu Hannover. Hanover, 1891, p. 214, no. 581, calls it a portrait of Velázquez and attributes it to an unknown Flemish painter of the first half of the seventeenth century, possibly Gaspar de Crayer (1584–1669); notes that it was formerly attributed to Velázquez himself.
Oskar Eisenmann inKatalog der zur Fideicommiss-Galerie des Gesamthauses Braunschweig und Lüneburg gehörigen Sammlung von Gemälden und Skulpturen im Provinzial-Museum . . . zu Hannover. Hanover, 1902, p. 214, no. 581.
Oskar Eisenmann and W. Köhler. Katalog der zur Fideikommiss-Galerie des Gesamthauses Braunschweig und Lüneburg . . . im Provinzial-Museum. Ed. Dr. Reimers. Hanover, 1905, p. 146, no. 469, Reimers adds to the text of Ref. Eisenmann 1891 that he would like to consider it by a Spanish master.
August L. Mayer. "Das Selbstbildnis des Velazquez im Provinzial-Museum zu Hannover." Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst 29 (November 1917), pp. 65–66, ill., describes it as a self-portrait by Velázquez from about 1635; reports that it was recognized as a Velázquez by the British art connoisseur Sir Hugh Hume Campbell in 1854, by H. Farrer in 1855, and by Mr. Smith in 1856; discusses areas of pentimenti, especially around the head, and states "One certainly cannot add this portrait to the happiest creations of Velasquez, but it reveals the Master everywhere"; mentions similarities with a Velázquez portrait of an unknown man at Apsley House, Wellington Museum, London [Ref. López-Rey 1963, no. 550] and with the "known self-portraits" at the Museo Capitolino, Pinacoteca, Rome [Ref. López-Rey 1963, no. 484], the Museo Provincial, Valencia [Ref. López-Rey 1963, no. 176], and contained within "Las Meninas" (Prado, Madrid), and lastly, with a supposed self-portrait depicted as the soldier on the right-hand side of "The Surrender of Breda" (Prado).
August L. Mayer. Diego Velazquez. Berlin, 1924, p. 31 n., calls it a self-portrait by Mazo.
Walter Gensel. Velazquez: Des Meisters Gemälde. Ed. Juan Allende-Salazar. Stuttgart, , p. 284, as neither representing Velázquez nor painted by him.
August L. Mayer. "A Self-Portrait by Velasquez." Art in America 14 (April 1926), pp. 100–102, ill., notes that a recent cleaning of the painting confirms his belief that it is a self-portrait by Velázquez; repeats his argument for a connection with the artist's portrait of a man (Apsley House, London) and in particular, with the self-portrait contained in "The Surrender of Breda" (Prado); suggests that the MMA picture may, in fact, be an original study for this figure of a soldier.
Édouard Brandus. "La collection des tableaux anciens de M. Jules S. Bache, à New-York." La Renaissance 11 (May 1928), p. 190–91, ill., dates it about 1634 and calls it a self-portrait painted by Velázquez.
Bryson Burroughs. "Spanish Paintings from El Greco to Goya." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 23 (February 1928), p. 42, ill. on cover, calls it "a practically unknown work" that depicts Velázquez at age 35.
"From El Greco to Goya." American Magazine of Art 19 (April 1928), p. 182, mentions it as a self-portrait, dated about 1634.
Royal Cortissoz. "Paintings by Velasquez in America." International Studio 90 (May–August 1928), p. 39, ill. p. 41.
Walter Heil. "The Jules Bache Collection." Art News 27 (April 27, 1929), pp. 4, 17, ill., calls it a self-portrait by Velázquez of about 1635.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill.
Royal Cortissoz. "The Jules S. Bache Collection." American Magazine of Art 21 (May 1930), p. 258.
Carl Justi. Diego Velazquez und sein Jahrhundert. [Zürich], 1933, no. 148, pl. 137, calls it a self-portrait but lists it among paintings from the workshop and attributed to Velázquez.
"Brooklyn Museum Opens Great Exhibition of Spanish Masterpieces." Art Digest 10 (October 1, 1935), pp. 5–6, ill.
August L. Mayer. Velazquez: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Pictures and Drawings. London, 1936, pp. 41–42, no. 170, pl. 71, lists it as "Self-portrait (?)" and dates it about 1633–34; remarks that he once thought this picture was a self-portrait by Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, but that he now believes it is "too good" to be by Mazo; concludes that if the right-hand soldier in "The Surrender of Breda" is indeed a self-portrait by Velázquez, as suggested to him by Juan Allende-Salazar, then this picture, which it closely resembles, must also be a self-portrait.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 43, ill.
George Henry McCall. Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800: Masterpieces of Art. Ed. William R. Valentiner. Exh. cat., World's Fair. New York, 1939, p. 193, no. 395.
Élie Faure. Velazquez: Gesamtwiedergabe seiner Gemälde. London, 1939, p. 242, no. 148, pl. 137, lists it as a self-portrait by Velázquez.
William R. Valentiner and Alfred M. Frankfurter. Masterpieces of Art: Exhibition at the New York World's Fair 1939, Official Souvenir Guide and Picture Book. New York, 1939, p. 12, no. 79, ill.
Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, no. 229, ill., remarks that the picture was first recognized as a self-portrait by Velázquez in 1854, while in the Hausmann collection, Hannover, by Sir Hugh Hume Campbell, and in 1856 this was reconfirmed by Henry Farrer, "both well-known art authorities of their day".
Regina Shoolman and Charles E. Slatkin. The Enjoyment of Art in America. Philadelphia, 1942, p. 469, pl. 421.
Harry B. Wehle. "The Bache Collection on Loan." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (June 1943), p. 290, describes it as "Velazquez's fascinatingly introspective Self-Portrait".
Walter Heil. "The Bache Paintings at the Metropolitan." Art News 42 (June–July 1943), p. 25.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 42, ill.
A[lfred]. D[avidson]. "Bache Collection Installed in Metropolitan Museum for the Summer." Art Digest 17 (July 1, 1943), p. 19, ill. p. 6.
Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), p. 4.
Bernardino de Pantorba. La vida y la obra de Velázquez: Estudio biográfico y crítico. Madrid, 1955, p. 103, observes a resemblance to the supposed self-portrait in "The Surrender of Breda" but doubts that the MMA picture is by Velázquez since it lacks the artist's rich subtlety and frankness of execution.
Kurt Gerstenberg. Diego Velazquez. [Munich], , p. 13, believes the self-portraits of the artist at about age 40, such as the present work, are all copies; claims that the close relationship between this picture and the supposed self-portrait in "The Surrender of Breda" provides evidence that a similar portrait of a young man dated about 1628 (Neue Pinakothek, Munich) is also a self-portrait.
José López-Rey. Velázquez: A Catalogue Raisonné of His Oeuvre. London, 1963, pp. 183–84, no. 181, pl. 233, calls it a "so-called self-portrait" and a "school piece rather close to Velázquez's manner"; remarks upon the resemblance between this picture and the head of the soldier in "The Surrender of Breda," and states that the latter has been variously identified as a self-portrait or a portrait of Mazo
José Camón Aznar. Velázquez. Madrid, 1964, vol. 2, pp. 686–88, ill., believes it may be by Velázquez and is perhaps a study for a more substantial self-portrait; remarks that the physiognomy is frank and, as is typical in Velázquez's self-portraits, the features are noble to the point of arrogance, but the picture conveys great human depth.
José Gudiol. "A Fresh Look at Some Velasquez Self-portraits." Connoisseur 159 (July 1965), p. 165, identifies the figure at the right in "The Surrender of Breda" as a self-portrait, based upon a comparison of the nose with that in an anonymous portrait of the young Velázquez, assumed to be a copy of a self-portrait (Palacio Episcopal, Granada); believes the MMA portrait and the figure in "The Surrender of Breda" represent the same sitter but has not examined the MMA picture closely enough to judge its authenticity.
José López-Rey. Velázquez. Cologne, 1996, vol. 2, p. 234.
Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez. Letter to Dulce Roman. April 27, 1997, observes that this picture is "directly related to Velázquez" and adds that he does not think it can be attributed to Alonso Cano.
Meryle Secrest. Duveen: A Life in Art. New York, 2004, p. 497, notes change of title and attribution from "Self-Portrait" to "Portrait of a Gentleman" and Workshop of Velázquez.
Keith Christiansen inVelázquez Rediscovered. New York, 2009, pp. 6–9, 23, figs. 1 (color), 2 (from Ref. Mayer 1917), 3 (from Ref. Mayer 1926), 19 (color, in MMA Paintings Conservation studio), ill. on cover (color detail), discusses the attribution history of the picture.
Jonathan Brown inVelázquez Rediscovered. New York, 2009, pp. 10–15, fig. 9 (color detail), on seeing the painting after its recent cleaning, enthusiastically ascribes it to Velázquez; believes that it does depict the same individual included at the right in the "Surrender of Breda," referring to the MMA painting as a "preliminary study" for that figure, but rejects his identification as Velázquez.
Michael Gallagher inVelázquez Rediscovered. New York, 2009, pp. 16–22, figs. 10 (color, before cleaning), 11 (color, after cleaning and restoration), 12 (x-radiograph), 13–16 (color details), discusses his cleaning and restoration of the picture in summer 2009, and describes Velázquez's working method in creating the painting.
Jonathan Brown. "Un Velázquez en Nueva York." Ars Magazine 3 (January–March 2010), pp. 56–63, 146–48, ill. (color, overall and details) [reprint of Ref. Brown 2009].
Michael Gallagher. "Una restauración singular." Ars Magazine 3 (January–March 2010), pp. 64–69, 148–49, ill. (color, overall and detail; color, in MMA Paintings Conservation studio, before cleaning, and after cleaning and restoration; overall from Ref. Mayer 1917 and Ref. Mayer 1926; x-radiograph) [reprint of Ref. Gallagher 2009].
Andrea Bayer inUnfinished: Thoughts Left Visible. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art [The Met Breuer]. New York, 2016, p. 326, colorpl. 63.
Michael Gallagher inUnfinished: Thoughts Left Visible. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art [The Met Breuer]. New York, 2016, pp. 44, 265 n. 3, fig. 2 (color, before treatment).
Jason Farago. "An Infinite World Captured In a Handful of Portraits." New York Times (January 13, 2017), p. C25, ill. (color).
The frame is from southern Spain and dates to about 1670. The carved frame in this well-known pattern is made of pine and covered in a thick gesso with an early burnished water gilding over the original gilding. The sight edge is carved in cabochon ornament and the corners and centers in stylized lotus leaves with hollow panels on the molding in between. Though never resized and retaining the original lap joints at the corners, the panels may have been painted, glazed, or marbled under this unlikely entirely gilded surface. The frame, from our own collection, was put on the painting in 2011.
[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2016; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]