Hals of Shame

Imagine my surprise when browsing Peter C. Sutton’s 1986 Dutch Art in America to find, in his survey of the Legion of Honor:

Once attributed to Frans Hals and hailed as a masterpiece, the dashing Portrait of a Man in White [you must plug in the name "Hals" to bring up the image] is now recognized as the work of a clever follower.

Since the wall label and the museum’s website call the painting a Hals, I queried the curator Lynn Orr as to when the re-attribution occurred.

She e-mailed a concession that it was certainly 17th century and that no alternative name had been proposed.

Well and good, I said, but in that case why not label it “Attributed to Frans Hals”?

Or, “In the Manner of…”?

All traditional ways of acknowledging uncertainty of attribution.

She did not reply.

I queried a museum press information officer. No reply.

All this is very peculiar, because the museum’s website, when discussing the provenance of its collections, credits the Roscoe and Margaret Oakes collection with bringing “highlights in Dutch, Flemish and British art of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, including works by Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds and Henry Raeburn.”

Noticeably absent is the name of Hals, although the painting in question was in that collection.

Does it matter?

Does institutional arrogance allow you to claim anything you can get away with?

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