This charming portrait of a young boy is a particularly fine example of Visscher’s highly-finished portraits, which were regarded as works of art in their own right rather than serving as studies for paintings. Using delicate strokes of black chalk to show the roundness of the cheeks, and shading the dimples at the corner of the mouth, Visscher creates an immensely appealing and tactile picture of this unidentified child. The same wide-eyed boy also featured as the model for Visscher’s Head of a boy looking up in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm (inv. no. 1876/1863).
This boy was only one of a number of young sitters who were studied by the artist, although the other drawings tend to be sketches from life rather than refined portraits of this kind. A Head of a sleeping boy was sold at Christie’s, New York, 30 January 1998, lot 382; and other drawings of children include the Head of a young boy in the Rijksmuseum (inv. RP-T-1902-A-4626), and three studies of boys’ heads in the Amsterdam Museum (invs. TA 10201, TA 10362 and TA 10361). A very comparable portrait of a child who looks strikingly similar to the present sitter, albeit some years younger, is in the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich (W. Wegner, Kataloge der Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, München: Die Niederländischen Handzeichnungen des 15.-18. Jahrhunderts, Berlin, 1973, I, pl. 235, fig. 1030).
We are grateful to John Hawley, currently finishing his doctoral thesis on Cornelis Visscher, who has confirmed the attribution on the basis of a digital photograph and kindly assisted with the cataloguing of the drawing.