VERSPRONCK, Jan Cornelisz
(b. ca. 1603, Haarlem, d. 1662, Haarlem)

Portrait of a Woman

Oil on canvas, 80 x 65,9 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Verspronck was a son of the Haarlem painter Cornelis Engelsz (1574/75-1650) who probably trained him. His earliest existing portraits, done in the mid-thirties, show the strong influence of Frans Hals's invention, but he never attempted to emulate Hals's bold brushwork or temperament. His touch is restrained and his works are highly finished. Original was a penchant he soon developed for depicting sitters off centre leaving a wide, neutral background to the right or left of them; these areas are always exquisitely modulated from light to dark. This propensity is seen in his Portrait of a Woman of 1644 (a companion-piece representing the portrait of a man is also in The Hermitage); subsequently, he sets patrons much closer to the canvas's edge. His palette rarely deviates from rich, shining blacks, subtle greys, browns, and white.

Like Hals, Verspronck was a particularly sensitive portraitist of women. His contemporaries in Haarlem apparently sensed this too. He was never commissioned to paint a regent group portrait but he was hired to execute two of regentesses. They are his most imposing paintings. The first group, dated 1641, depicts the Regentesses of the St Elizabeth Hospital. It was painted as a companion piece to Hals's group portrait of the regents of the same institution executed in the same year, and, like Hals's, it was done for the hospital and still belongs to it. The two paintings vie for the distinction of being the first regent group portraits painted in Haarlem.