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Bartholomeus van der Helst, Portrait of a Lady in Black Satin with a Fan

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Lady in Black Satin with a Fan
Artist Bartholomeus van der Helst
Artist dates 1613 - 1670
Date made 1644
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 104.6 × 76 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 1904
Inventory number NG1937
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of a Lady in Black Satin with a Fan
Bartholomeus van der Helst

The lady in Bartholomeus van der Helst’s portrait may be unknown now, but she appears to have been a woman of some status. Standing out against a severe, plain black background, her clothes announce her wealth and status – and little else. Although she appears modest and unassuming her gaze is direct and steady.

With no attempt at flattery, van der Helst painted her wispy hair hanging unfashionably straight under a long lace cap, both accentuating her high forehead and the length of her face. She holds her delicately decorated stomacher out towards us – the embroidery incorporates silver thread and pearl beads, making this uncomfortable, restraining garment appear sparkling and almost frivolous. She also presents her fan, its bow – like the one at her breast – made partly of silver thread; the fan would have been hand painted, perhaps with flowers or a scene from a Greek myth.

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