Bartholomeus van der Helst

Dates1613 - 1670

When Bartholomeus van der Helst moved to Amsterdam in 1636, Rembrandt van Rijn was at the height of his popularity. Within the decade, the Haarlem innkeeper's son would surpass Rembrandt as the most sought-after portraitist in the city, for tastes were changing and so was Rembrandt's style. As Rembrandt's work grew deeper and more personal, many patrons were demanding more elegant, less intense portraits. The dazzling elegance of the Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck had reached Amsterdam. The city's military heroes and the wealthy members of the regent class loved the new style, and Van der Helst quickly adapted himself to their tastes. Patrons turned to Van der Helst, who firmly established his reputation in 1643, when his first large group portrait, Captain Bicker's Company, received rave reviews for its swagger, bright colors, virtuoso display of finery, and clearly delineated individuals.

Van der Helst's colorful realism remained fashionable into the next century. When famed British portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds visited Amsterdam in 1781, he praised Captain Bicker's Company: "[it] is, perhaps, the first picture of portraits in the world, comprehending more of those qualities which make a perfect portrait than any other I have ever seen."