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French, 'Portrait of a Young Man', 1640s

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Young Man
Artist French
Date made 1640s
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 62 × 52.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1899
Inventory number NG1680
Location Room 31
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of a Young Man

This picture raises all the questions usually prompted by an unidentified sitter: who is this person, where is he, how old is he? The dark background gives little information. He’s young, and his clothes suggest he’s well off, but there are no further clues to his identity.

When this work entered the National Gallery’s collection in 1899, it was described as a self portrait of the Dutch artist Karel Dujardin, thanks in part to a signature on the left of the picture, level with the young man’s shoulder. However, this signature turned out to be false and was removed during conservation treatment in the early 1980s. It has since been suggested that the portrait is by a seventeenth-century French artist, but a firm attribution remains elusive.

X-ray images reveal swirls of paint under the black background, probably made by the anonymous artist wiping paint from his brush.

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