The Dutch Golden Age painter Pieter Harmensz Verlest was born in the Netherlands in 1618. He painted a variety of subject matters, including a number of portraits, but is perhaps best known for his depictions of daily life including street and tavern scenes from Dutch and Italian villages. He died around 1668, leaving three sons, Simon, Herman and Johannes, who all followed in their father’s footsteps and became artists.
This small and intimate portrait dates from the late 17th century and was painted by a member of the circle of Verelst. It depicts a youth standing in front of a doorway looking out onto a flat landscape. A large proportion of the landscape is made up of a dramatic cloud-streaked sky and the sitter’s large averted eyes display a woeful, melancholic expression, which is echoed in the dark clouds brewing in the distance behind him.
The painting’s composition is made up of several alternating contrasts between light shining across the sitter’s right arm and face, and the flash of bright blue sky towards the top of the picture, against the blacks and murky browns of the distant fields and the deep shadows behind him. The contrast between light and dark is used particularly effectively in the artist’s skilful handling of the youth’s baggy shirtsleeves, which are criss-crossed with tiny crumples and folds.