This vibrantly coloured bust-length portrait, which depicts an adolescent boy sat within a wistful background, was painted by one of the leading Anglo-Dutch portrait painters of the restoration period in England, Gilbert Soest. Second only to fellow Westphalian Sir Peter Lely (1618 – 1680), Soest was never formally patronised by the court, but he enjoyed a highly respectable career painting portraits of England’s gentry and professional classes during the reign of King Charles II. The noted art historian Collins Baker, who specialised in the late Stuart period, stated that “In his best portraits… we can safely say that no other painter of the ‘60’s so nearly rivalled Lely as Soest”.
Our young sitter is garbed in a relatively unassuming, yet luscious costume. His white shirt with its voluminous sleeves is just visible beneath the heavy red fabric draped over his shoulders. With loose flowing locks and a stoic expression, this young boy is presented before a setting sun. These nondescript landscapes are in fact characteristic of Soest’s paintings; it could even be argued they, much like those found in later, larger portraits by John Michael Wright (1617 – 1694), created romantic, Arcadian settings for Soest’s subjects, thus elevating their visual sophistication.
Further to this – and something that is explored in this portrait - Soest’s approach to character was always profoundly serious, and his finest works have a distinctive grave and introspective air, akin in mood, although on a larger scale, to the portraits of Gerard Ter Borch. There does exist a handful of examples, often involving double portraits, where Soest explores an emotional tenderness between sitters. For example, the double portrait of the 3rd Lord Fairfax and his Wife (National Portrait Gallery, London) and the remarkable Portrait of a Lady (Gosford House, Lothian), with a sleeping child at her breast.
Soest’s distinctive painting technique is visible here: he applied paint in thin layers and made a slightly shadowed treatment of the flesh. Another connoisseur such as Horace Walpole thought that Soest’s work was ‘animated with truth and nature; round, bold, yet highly finished’. Such qualities are evident in his masterpiece: a full-length portrait of the 2nd Lord Baltimore (Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD). Like his unique painterly style, Soest tended toward an expressive representation of costume: he would bunch it up over an arm, into big, loose shapes, with eye-catching sweeps and folds. These highly mannered folds within the sitter’s mantles, which were often vividly coloured and indeed Collins Baker noted “no other painter in England…had his trick of puffing out silk and satin draperies into sharp folded gleaming masses.”
Born circa 1600, Gilbert Soest is traditionally thought to have come from Soest in Westphalia, but was almost certainly Dutch by birth and training. He likely came to England in the late 1640s and was influenced by the like of Van Dyck and William Dobson. Soest established a very respectable practice in London and his earliest dated work is from 1646. Although he never quite made it in the most fashionable courtly circles, George Vertue praised the painter’s ‘…real good and judicious and masterly manner’. The artist John Riley (1646 – 1691), who went on to be court painter to William III and Mary, was his most successful pupil. During the 1650s Soest’s produced mainly bust portraits set within painted ovals, our portrait being a prime example. It was not until the 1660s that he began working on larger canvases. Towards the end of his life, Soest is known to have grown ‘out of humour with the public, but particularly with the ladies, which his ruff humour could never please’. It is believed that he would open his door himself to lady sitters and feign to be his own servant, or flee the house rather than paint them, leaving his wife to explain the position. Whilst it is not known exactly when he died, the reliable writings of Charles Beale – the husband of Britain’s earliest known professional female painter, Mary Beale – recorded that Soest was nearly eighty when he died.
 Collins Baker, Lely and the Stuart Painters, vol. 1, London 1912, p. 199.
 T. Borenius, “Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore” from The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 63, no. 368 (November 1933), p.192.
 Oliver Millar in his entry on ‘Soest, Gerard’ in the Grove Art Online, accessed on the 12th of April 2007 at www.groveart.com.
 Collins Baker, Lely and the Stuart Painters, vol. 1, London 1912, pp. 205 - 6.