After Rembrandt, who was his junior by a generation, Hals is the next great name in Dutch painting. His peculiar excellence is in the spontaneity and vivacity of his pictures. He was a practician of extraordinary skill, as well, particularly in the manipulation of obvious brush strokes.
It is a technique which has been and is fashionable among many modern painters, and this fact may account in part for the high appreciation in which the artist has been held of late years, after almost two centuries of comparative neglect. Of his portraits the Altman Collection comprises no example, this work approaching portraiture more nearly than the two other pictures by him hanging on the east wall of the gallery. Like the Hille Babbe and the Smoker belonging to the Museum (exhibited in Gallery 26), the Youth with a Mandolin partakes of the nature of a subject- or character-picture as well as of portraiture. The young man probably posed for the work but the painter’s interest was not in the likeness, though doubtless the resemblance is excellent, but rather in the expression of a mood of joyousness and abandon.
The young man is seated in front of a curtain, a mandolin resting against his left arm. He is laughing and holds an emptied glass in his right hand, pouring the last drops of the wine on his left thumb, indicating thereby, no doubt, that the glass is empty and that he wants it refilled. E. W. Moes, in his book on Hals, lists this picture under the title The Ruby on the Finger nail, some slang phrase of the time probably referring to this state of affairs.
The picture comes from Ireland and was shown in the Dublin Exhibition of 1857. It comes from the collection of J. Napper of Lough Crew Castle, County of Meath, and was sold by the Bishop of Meath in 1906.