Three Men and a Boy
Oil on canvas
National Gallery, London
Three Men and a Boy has been generally interpreted as an unfinished group portrait of the brothers Le Nain. Indeed, the figures, close in age, resemble one another. The man in the middle returns the viewer’s gaze, a convention that indicates a self-portrait. He must be Mathieu, since based on characteristics of style—such as the drapery’s sheen and the softly curling hair—the painting seems to be by him. If that figure is Mathieu, then the oldest brother, Antoine, must be on the right and Louis on the left—although these identifications may be debated. The composition was executed left to right and never finished. When the nonoriginal paint was removed during a cleaning in 1968, the figure of the boy at right was revealed. Along with the patch of colors at lower right, he is likely part of a composition that was never realized.
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