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Frans Hals

Netherlands Baroque Painter and Draftsman

1581 - 1666


Portrait of Andries van der Horn: 1638


At mid-height on the right side an inscription: "AETAT SVAE 38 / AN 1638". Andries van der Horn was an important member of the Haarlem society, his portrait can be found also in the group portrait Officers and Subodinates of the St George Civic Guard Company (ca. 1639).


Frans Hals was a Dutch Golden Age painter especially famous for portraiture. He is notable for his loose painterly brushwork, and helped introduce this lively style of painting into Dutch art. Hals was also instrumental in the evolution of 17th century group portraiture.

Hals was born in 1580 or 1581, in Antwerp. Like many, Hals' family emigrated from the Spanish Netherlands to Haarlem In 1585-the year of the Fall of Antwerp-where he lived for the remainder of his life. Hals studied under another Flemish-emigre, Karel van Mander (1548-1606), whose Mannerist influence, however, is not noticeably visible in his work. Afterwards, at the age of 27, he became a member of the city's Guild of Saint Luke. The earliest known example of Hals' art is the 1611, Jacobus Zaffius. His 'breakthrough' came in 1616, with the life-size group portrait, The Banquet of the Officers of the Saint George Militia Company.


Jacobus Zaffius: 1611

The Banquet of the Officers of the Saint George Militia Company: 1616

The portrait of the Officers of the Saint George Civic Guard is the first major group portrait by Frans Hals, and the first monumental civic guard painting in the new era of Dutch painting. Together with the leaders of public, charitable and professional associations, the civic guard societies were the main patrons to commission group portraits. This patronage took on considerable proportions in the course of the century. These group portraits are also of value as historical documents, for which lists were drawn up giving the names of the figures portrayed. The paintings themselves were displayed prominently on the premises of the respective association.

These civic guard portraits were an expression of the Baroque will to representation, whose tradition is rooted in the medieval era. There had been civic guards in the Netherlands since the 13th century. They had played an important role in the emancipation of the cities and towns from feudal rule and had gained considerable political and military significance in the Netherlands' struggle for independence.

Cornelis van Haarlem had already painted the officers of the Saint George Civic Guard in 1599. Hals, however, revolutionizes this type of painting. Instead of merely painting a row of individual portraits, he places them within a specific context by creating a banquet scene. This is not simply a moment captured at a table, but an extremely witty and calculated composition in which a scenic context is created between all the figures involved, and, on the other hand, each of the figures poses and acts independently and individually. Hals has found a new and persuasive solution to the problem of portraying a large group without difference of rank.

Hals seems to have arranged the officers casually around the festive board. But this is not the case. The places they occupy are in strict accord with military protocol. The colonel, the company's highest ranking officer, is seated at the head of the table; at his right is the provost, the second ranking officer. They are flanked by the company's three captains and the three lieutenants are at the lower end of the table. The three ensigns, who were not members of the officer corps, and the servant stand. Hals other group portraits of officers at banquet tables, which look equally informal, follow a similar hierarchical arrangement.


Historians have erroneously reported that he mistreated his first wife, Anneke Hermansz (Annetje Harmensdochter Abeel), based on records that a Frans Hals was charged with spousal abuse in Haarlem in 1616. However, as Seymour Slive has pointed out, the Frans Hals in question was not the artist, but another Haarlem resident of the same name. Indeed, at the time of these charges, the artist had no wife to mistreat as Anneke had died earlier in 1616. Similarly, historical accounts of Hals' propensity for drink have been largely based on embellished anecdotes of his early biographers, namely Arnold Houbraken, with no direct evidence existing documenting such. In 1617, already with two children by Anneke, he married Lysbeth Reyniers, with whom he had eight children.

Although Hals' work was in demand throughout his life, he experienced financial difficulties. In addition to painting, he worked as an art dealer and restorer. His creditors took him to court several times, and to settle his debt with a baker in 1652 he sold his belongings. The inventory of the property seized mentions only three mattresses and bolsters, an armoire, a table and five pictures. Left destitute, the municipality gave him an annuity of 200 forms in 1664.

At a time when the Dutch nation fought for independence, Hals appeared in the ranks of its military guilds. He was also a member of a local chamber of rhetoric, and in 1644 chairman of the Painters Corporation at Haarlem.

Frans Hals died in Haarlem in 1666 and was buried in the city's Saint Bavo Church. His widow later died obscurely in a hospital after seeking outdoor relief from the guardians of the poor.


Hals is best known for his portraits, mainly of wealthy citizens. He also painted large group portraits, many of which showed civil guards. He was a Baroque painter who practiced an intimate realism with a radically free approach. His pictures illustrate the various strata of society; banquets or meetings of officers, sharpshooters, guildsmen, admirals, generals, burgomasters, merchants, lawyers, and clerks, itinerant players and singers, gentlefolk, fishwives and tavern heroes.


Portrait of a Man Holding a Skull: ca 1611

The pendant of this painting, the Portrait of a Woman is in the Chatsworth House, Devonshire.


Portrait of a Woman: ca 1611

The pendant of this painting, the Portrait of a Man is in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham.


Shrovetide Revellers: ca 1615

The painting is one the rare multi-figured subject pictures of Hals. In the crowded life-size composition the figures are tightly knit. The heads above the principle Shrovetide revelers are summarily sketched, a former owner found these heads too coarse and had them painted out; they were revealed when the painting was cleaned at the Metropolitan Museum in 1951.


Pieter Cornelisz van der Morsch: 1616

In aristocratic and elite circles the international courtly taste for historical portraits was occasionally followed. These works show sitters in the guise of classical; mythological, allegorical, literary, and even biblical characters implying that the model possessed the virtues of the personages whose roles they play. But character and status was most often depicted in a more mundane way by the naturalistic portrayals of patrons dressed in the fashion of their time and class, although then, as now, there were older people who preferred to be seen wearing clothes that were the 'dernier cri' when they were young. Additionally, then, as now, accessories and props were introduced to allude to the character or profession of sitters or to abstract ideas. Decoding their meanings is not always as straightforward as it may seem. The modern spectacles through which we look at portraits of another epoch can obscure their meaning.

Consider the smoked herring held in one hand by Pieter van der Morsch and the herrings he has in his straw basket in Frans Hals's portrait of him. At first blush his herrings appear to identify him as a fisherman or fishmonger hawking his wares. This seemingly convincing interpretation, which had been accepted since the portrait entered the literature in the nineteenth century, appears to be clinched by the conspicuous inscription: 'WIE BEGEERT' (Who Desires One). However, a close study of the seventeenth-century iconology of the smoked herring and of what could be learned about van der Morsch from contemporary sources demonstrated this interpretation is wrong. Van der Morsch was not a fisherman or fishmonger. He was a Leiden municipal court messenger who belonged to one of the city's literary societies where he played the part of a buffoon. A book of his own verse includes an epitaph he composed for himself. In it he characterizes himself as a man who distributes smoked herrings. Ample evidence establishes that in his time 'to give someone a smoked herring' (iemand een bokking geven) meant to shame someone with a sharp rebuke. The inscription on the painting is not a reference to the sale of smoked herrings. It refers to van der Morsch's readiness to ridicule. In Hals's painting the smoked herrings and inscription have been used to portray van der Morsch in his role as the wise fool of his literary society.


Theodorus Schrevelius: 1617

Pieter Jacobz Olycan, Burgomaster of Haarlem


Paulus van Beresteyn: ca 1620

The pendant of the painting, also in the Louvre, represents Catharina van der Eem, the sitter's third wife.


Catharina Both van der Eem: ca 1620

The pendant of the painting, also in the Louvre, represents Paulus van Beresteyn, the sitter's husband.


The Rommel Pot Player: 1618-22


Catharina Hooft with her Nurse: ca 1620

As this picture clearly shows, in his early commissioned portraits Hals adhered more closely to the old technique and to accepted conventions than in his genre works. During the first decades of his career he continued to follow the ancient idea of adjusting his style to his subject. Of course it is appropriate that the gestures and expressions of the nurse and the elegantly dressed Catherina are more refined than those used by a boisterous group celebrating carnival.

The double portrait is an excellent early example of Hals's subtle invention. The nurse, it seems, was about to present an apple to the young child when both were diverted by the approach of a spectator, to whom they appear to turn spontaneously, one of the many ingenious devices used by Hals to give the impression of a moment of life in his pictures. The color scheme still shows the dark tonality of his early commissioned portraits, and the minute execution of the child's richly embroidered costume is set off by a delightful vivacity in the brushwork on the faces and hands.

In 1635 Catharina became the teen-age bride of extremely wealthy Cornelis de Graeff who later served repeatedly as burgomaster of Amsterdam and became the city's guiding political force as well as adviser and confidant of Johan de Witt, Holland's leading statesman after the middle of the century.


In group portraits, such as the Archers of St. Hadrian, Hals captures each character in a different manner. The faces are not idealized and are clearly distinguishable, with their personalities revealed in a variety of poses and facial expressions.

Archers of Saint Hadrian: ca 1633

Hals new tendency towards restraint is seen in the two large group portraits of civil guards made during the 1630s: the Officers and Sergeants of the St Hadrian Civic Guard of Haarlem (ca. 1633) and the Officers and Sergeants of the St George Civic Guard Company (ca. 1639), both in the Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem. The vivacity of the setting is already slightly subdued in the group portrait painted 1633 by the subordination of the figures to a horizontal band, and this horizontal accent completely dominates the arrangement of the figures in the group portrait painted 1639. In both group portraits the figures are set in the open air, but they lose rather than gain in plein-air quality. This is particularly true of the picture of 1639, which is dominated by a warm golden olive tone, while the one of 1633 still retains a good deal of the colouristic vivacity and charm of the 1620s, and also some of the compositional boldness and agitation of the earlier period.

The picture of 1639, in which Hals's self-portrait is to be seen, is the master's last representation of a civic guard group. The whole category virtually disappears in the Netherlands around the middle of the century. After the Treaty of M√ľnster of 1648, which gave Holland de jure recognition in the councils of Europe, Dutch patricians preferred to be seen as dignified regents rather than military men.

Officers and Sergeants of the St George Civic Guard Company: ca 1639


He studied under the painter and historian Karel van Mander (Hals owned some paintings by van Mander that were amongst the items sold to pay his bakery debt in 1652). He soon improved upon the practice of the time, as exemplified by Jan van Scorel and Antonio Moro, and gradually emancipated himself from traditional portrait conventions.

Hals was fond of daylight and silvery sheen, while Rembrandt used golden glow effects based upon artificial contrasts of low light in immeasurable gloom. Both men were painters of touch, but of touch on different keys - Rembrandt was the bass, Hals the treble. Hals seized, with rare intuition, a moment in the life of his subjects. What nature displayed in that moment he reproduced thoroughly in a delicate scale of color, and with mastery over every form of expression. He became so clever that exact tone, light and shade, and modeling were obtained with a few marked and fluid strokes of the brush.

The only record of his work in the first decade of his independent activity is an engraving by Jan van de Velde copied from lost portrait of The Minister Johannes Bogardus. Early works by Hals, such as Two Boys Playing and Singing and a Banquet of the Officers of the Saint Joris Doele or Arquebusiers of St George (1616), show him as a careful draughtsman capable of great finish, yet spirited withal. The flesh he painted is pastose and burnished, less clear than it subsequently became. Later, he became more effective, displayed more freedom of hand, and a greater command of effect.


Two Boys Singing: ca 1625

The two happy youngsters sing from an opened musical score, beating the rhythm with their hands, while the older one holds a lute in his left hand. There is attentiveness and satisfaction on their faces. Their expressions are realistic, although more typified than portrait-like.

It seems certain that this painting represents Hearing from a series of allegories on the five senses. The other pieces may have been considered independent still-life paintings, and they have been scattered.

One additional detail seems to indicate that this painting is associated with the senses. The decorative feathered beret was not merely a fashionable dress item during the 1620s; its depiction may be interpreted as a symbol. "A feather on one's head indicates that one's sensitivities are as easily moved as the feather by the light breeze."


During this period he painted the full-length portrait of Madame van Beresteyn (Louvre), and a full-length portrait of Willem van Heythuysen leaning on a sword. Both these pictures are equaled by the other Banquet of the Officers of the Arquebusiers of Saint George (with different portraits) and the Banquet of the Officers of the Cloveniers or Arquebusiers of Saint Hadrian of 1627 and an Assembly of the Officers of the Arquebusiers of Saint Hadrian of 1633. A similar painting, with the date of 1637, suggests some study of Rembrandt masterpieces, and a similar influence is apparent in a picture of 1641 representing the Regents of the Company of Saint Elizabeth, and in the portrait of Maria Voogt at Amsterdam.


Willem van Heythuyzen: ca 1625

This portrait, which was formerly dated about 1635 but upon the basis of style and costume should be dated about a decade earlier, is Hals's only known life-size, full-length. This type of portrait was not popular during the first half of the seventeenth century in Holland. It was one that was still primarily used for state portraits and the nobility; only the most powerful, the wealthiest or the most pretentious commissioned them. Moreover, few Dutch homes were large enough for them. But van Heythuyzen's residence was. Heythuyzen was a very rich merchant who made his great fortune in the city's textile industry, the principal source of Haarlem's prosperity after beer brewing.

Even if nothing were known about van Heythuyzen's life there is no disputing it: Hals's portrait of him standing big as life captures the confidence and vitality of the burghers who made Holland the most powerful and richest nation in Europe during the first half of the seventeenth century. It is one of those rare pictures that seems to sum up an entire epoch. A sense of energy is conveyed by the tautness the artist gave to his model's bolt-upright figure. His extended leg does not dangle, but carries its full share of his weight. One arm just straight out, stiff as the sword he holds; the other makes a sharp angle from shoulder to elbow to hip, and even his knuckles take part in the taut, angular movement.

As in most of Hals's portraits of the 1620s, the light falls with equal intensity on van Heythuyzen's alert head and on his hands. Shiny highlights and sharp shadows heighten the subject's palpable presence and the blended brushstrokes that model flesh are set off by adjacent areas where there are distinct, detached touches of brush. No portraitist before Hals dared use such a variety of brushstrokes in a formal portrait. The Van Dyckian props, a rarity in Hals's oeuvre, are beautifully worked into the design. The vertical accent of the pilaster on the right reinforces the figure's erect carriage, and the burgundy drapery is incorporated into the pattern formed by van Heythuyzen's elephantine pair of bouffant knee-breeches and cloak cut like a cape.

The prominent roses in this portrait of a man who remained a bachelor could allude, as they do so often in paintings of the period, to the pleasures and pain of love, references in van Mander's 'Schilderboek' suggest that they and the lovers in the garden in its background were probably intended as reminders of life's transience.


Banquet of the Officers of the Saint Hadrian Civic Guard Company: ca 1627

This painting and the Banquet of the Officers of the St George Civic Guard Company of Haarlem (Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem) are outstanding examples of how carefully Hals calculated his candid effects. He heightened the momentary quality of both pictures by interlacing the figures on the surface of the canvas and in depth. The impression is of casual irregularity, but, as in his technique, a hidden order underlies his large composition.

In both banquet pieces he links up two principal groups by long diagonals, and each single group shows a central seated figure, around which the other men are arranged, some seated and some standing. The crossing of the main diagonals coincides with the head of a seated figure in the second plane, which gains through this scheme and added interest and becomes a kind of occult centre. Ingenious variety of position and movement relates the figures to each other or to the spectator. The final result is an unprecedented illusion of an animated gathering.

The impression that these guardsmen could consume gargantuan quantities of food and liquor is confirmed by an ordinance laid down by the municipal authorities of Haarlem in 1621. Town official took cognizance of the fact that some of the banquets of the militia lasted a whole week. Considering that the municipality had to pay the costs, and that the times were troubled (the ordinance was written after hostilities with Spain had been resumed), it was decreed that the celebrations 'were not to last longer than three, or at the most four days...'


Regents of the St Elizabeth Hospital of Haarlem: 1641


From 1620 till 1640 he painted many double portraits of married couples, on separate panels, the man on the left panel and his wife at his right. Only once did Hals portray a couple on a single canvas: Double Portrait of a Couple, (ca. 1622, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam).


Married Couple in a Garden: ca 1622

It is assumed by critics that the sitters are Isaac Massa and his wife Beatrix van der Laen. However, it is debated by others. The pose of the recently married couple, leaning against the trunk of a tree, emphasizes the casual air of the portrait. The ivy twining itself around the tree and curling round at the woman's feet, who, in turn, has her hand negligently resting on the man's shoulder, symbolizes the permanence of the marriage. The thistle growing next to the man in the bare patch of ground at the bottom left of the picture may be an allusion to God's word to Adam after the Fall: "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow you shall eat of it all days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." (Genesis 3, 17) Thus, the thistle may symbolize labor, itself a consequence of the Fall. In puritanical Calvinist ethics, which had already gained considerable currency in the Netherlands, work was considered a cardinal virtue, and achievement a central aspect of personal conduct.

Frans Hals's work for this bourgeois couple included an Italian landscape background on the right - a sunlit villa, marble statue and spring - whose purpose was to create the impression of elevated rank and dignified elegance. However, the background features are fanciful, bearing no relation whatsoever to the real world of the couple. Rather than the couple's country residence, scrutiny of iconographical details shows the villa to be the temple of Juno, the goddess of marriage, whose attribute was the peacock.


Married Couple in a Garden - Detail: ca 1622

The detail shows the Italian landscape background on the right - a sunlit villa, marble statue and spring - whose purpose was to create the impression of elevated rank and dignified elegance. However, the background features are fanciful, bearing no relation whatsoever to the real world of the couple. Rather than the couple's country residence, scrutiny of iconographical details shows the villa to be the temple of Juno, the goddess of marriage, whose attribute was the peacock.


His style changed throughout his life. Paintings of vivid color were gradually replaced by pieces where one color dominated. After 1641 he showed a tendency to restrict the gamut of his palette, and to suggest color rather than express it. Later in his life darker tones, even with much black, took over. His brush strokes became looser in later years, fine detail becoming less important than the overall impression. Where his earlier pieces radiated gaiety and liveliness, his later portraits emphasized the stature and dignity of the people portrayed. This austerity is displayed in Regentesses of the Old Men's Alms House and The Regents and Regentesses of the Oudemannenhuis (ca. 1664), which are masterpieces of color, though in substance all but monochromes. His restricted palette is particularly noticeable in his flesh tints, which from year to year became more grey, until finally the shadows were painted in almost absolute black, as in the Tymane Oosdorp.


Regents of the Old Men's Almshouse: 1664

The two great portrait groups of the Regents and Regentesses of the Old Men's Alms House in Haarlem, which today both hang in the Frans Hals Museum in the town, are traditionally said to have been painted in 1664. The five Regents portrayed by Hals held their offices from 1662 to 1665 and it was very usual to mark the end of their term of office by commissioning a group portrait of this kind. They are Jonas de Jong, Mattheus Everswijn, Dr Cornelis Westerloo, Daniel Deinoot and Johannes Walles. As no documented portraits of these men survive, it has proved impossible to link the names to individual portraits.

There is an old legend that Hals reduced to poverty in his last years and an inmate of the Alms House took his revenge on the Regents by depicting them in unflattering fashion. In fact, although he was certainly poor, he was never in the Alms House and the bold, free and animated style of the group is also evident in his other portraits of this period. It has been convincingly argued that the unusual expression on the face of the Regent who is seated on the right is the consequence of partial facial paralysis rather than - as the legend has it - drunkenness. Such candor is characteristic of Hals who felt no need to disguise the Regent's affliction. The standing figure, without a hat, is the servant of the Regents.

These two group portraits, painted at the very end of Hals's long career, display the remarkable shorthand that he (and other great painters in old age) discovered. No brushstroke is out of place or extraneous: there is no unimportant description of detail but a concentration upon essentials, the evocation of character in a few unerringly placed brushstrokes.


Regentesses of the Old Men's Almshouse: 1664

The two large format group portraits of the Regents and Regentesses of the Old Men's Almshouse in Haarlem are not only one of the last major work by this artist who ranks beside Rembrandt as the greatest of all portrait painters, they are also the last historically significant examples of this genre.

Whereas Hals previously presented individual gestures, attitudes and poses in a ceremonial and more than momentary context, here he isolates the individual parts and the individuals themselves. The faces above the white collars seem to float against the dark ground of a room that is difficult to distinguish. The "breakdown" of the figurative corresponds to the brushwork whose ductus is no longer fluid, but broken so that it seems to crumble into particles of color. Here and there, a shimmer of red flares up through the black like the final glimmer of dying embers in the ashes.

Whereas the iconography of vanitas and the theme of transience were previously expressed through specific symbols in Dutch painting, we now find that the most vigorous genre of the entire group portrait - has also been imbued with the concept of mortality. Old age and death seem to menace, where once there was activity and sociability.


As this tendency coincides with the period of his poverty, some historians have suggested that a reason for his predilection for black and white pigment was the low price of these colors as compared with the costly lakes and carmines.

As a portrait painter Hals had scarcely the psychological insight of a Rembrandt or Velazquez, though in a few works, like the Admiral de Ruyter, the Jacob Olycan, and the Albert van der Meer paintings, he reveals a searching analysis of character which has little in common with the instantaneous expression of his so-called character portraits. In these, he generally sets upon the canvas the fleeting aspect of the various stages of merriment, from the subtle, half ironic smile that quivers round the lips of the curiously misnamed Laughing Cavalier to the imbecile grin of the Malle Babbe. To this group of pictures belong Baron Gustav Rothschilds Jester, the Bohemienne and the Fisher Boy, while the Portrait of the Artist with his Second Wife, and the somewhat confused group of the Beresteyn Family at the Louvre show a similar tendency. Far less scattered in arrangement than this Beresteyn group, and in every respect one of the most masterly of Hals' achievements is the group called The Painter and his Family, which was almost unknown until it appeared at the winter exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1906.


The Laughing Cavalier: 1624

This is one of the most famous portraits in the world, yet the identity of the man is unknown. From the inscription in the upper right corner we know only that he was twenty-six years old when Hals painted him in 1624, presumably as a commission from the sitter himself. The title, inaccurate but now inseparable from the work, dates from the 1870's when it was first exhibited by Sir Richard Wallace. Its modern fame is founded partly on the incomparable skill with which Hals has painted the brilliant costume (including the love emblems on the doublet), but above all on the vivid portrayal of swaggering self-confidence.


Malle Babbe: 1633-35

This picture shows Hals supreme mastery of one of the principal preoccupations of Baroque artists: the rendering of instantaneous emotion and movement. No seventeenth-century artist surpassed Hals in these fields. Hals's vigorous concentration on this was more than an ordinary rendering of reality. He selected moments when human nature reveals all its vital energy. Most frequently he shows the instant when the joy of life is at its highest: the spontaneous laughter of a child, the smile of a courtesan, or the wild shriek of an old crone, like in this painting.


Jester, Playing a Lute: ca 1623

Hals's debt to the Utrecht Caravaggists is evident in his life-size genre pictures of musicians, drinkers, actors, and children of the 1620s and 1630s. But there are some significant differences. Hals was never fascinated by the experiments the Caravaggesque painters conducted with dramatic chiaroscuro effects produced by artificial light. The instantaneous expressions of his subjects never freeze into grimaces, and even when his models are dressed in costumes, he never creates the impression that they are posing in a studio; he always convinces us that we are watching a fleeting moment of life.


La Bohémienne: 1628

With this portrait of a jovial gipsy wench, Hals continues in the Caravaggesque tradition of popular subjects which was imported from Rome by Terbrugghen and Honthorst. However, it is the exuberance of the light and colorful brushstrokes of his technique which conveys the sensation of spontaneity and life in this painting. The actual handling of the paint has now become a means of expression in itself.


Fisher Boy: 1630-32

Fisher Girl: 1630-32

The Fisher Boy: 1630-32


People often think that Hals 'threw' his works 'in one toss' (aus einem Guss) onto the canvas. Research of a technical and scientific nature has clarified that this impression is not correct. True, the odd work was largely put down without underdrawings or under painting ('alla prima'), but most of the works were created in successive layers, as was customary at that time. Sometimes a drawing was made with chalk or paint on top of a grey or pink undercoat, and was then more or less filled in, in stages. It does seem that Hals usually applied his under painting very loosely: he was a virtuoso from the beginning. This applies, of course, particularly to his somewhat later, mature works. Hals displayed tremendous daring, great courage and virtuosity, and had a great capacity to pull back his hands from the canvas, or panel, at the moment of the most telling statement. He didn't 'paint them to death', as many of his contemporaries did, in their great accuracy and diligence whether requested by their clients or not.

As early as the 17th century, people were struck by the vitality of Frans Hals' portraits. For example, Haarlem resident Theodorus Schrevelius noted that Hals' works reflected 'such power and life' that the painter 'seems to challenge nature with his brush'. Centuries later Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo: 'What a joy it is to see a Frans Hals, how different it is from the paintings - so many of them - where everything is carefully smoothed out in the same manner.' Hals chose not to give a smooth finish to his painting, as most of his contemporaries did, but mimicked the vitality of his subject by using smears, lines, spots, large patches of color and hardly any details.

It was not until the 19th century that his technique had followers, particularly among the Impressionists. Pieces such as The Regentesses of the Old Men's Alms House and the civic guard paintings demonstrate this technique to the fullest.

Hals' reputation waned after his death and for two centuries he was held in such poor esteem that some of his paintings, which are now among the proudest possessions of public galleries, were sold at auction for a few pounds or even shillings. The portrait of Johannes Acronius realized five shillings at the Enschede sale in 1786. The portrait of the man with the sword at the Liechtenstein gallery sold in 1800 for 4, 5s.

Starting at the middle of the 19th century his prestige rose again. With his rehabilitation in public esteem came the enormous rise in values, and, at the Secretan sale in 1889, the portrait of Pieter van de Broecke Danvers was bid up to 4,420, while in 1908 the National Gallery paid 25,000 for the large group from the collection of Lord Talbot de Malahide.

Hals' works have found their way to countless other cities all over the world and into museum collections. From the late 19th century, they were collected everywhere - from Antwerp to Toronto and from London to New York. Many of his paintings were then sold to American collectors, who appreciated his uncritical attitude towards wealth and status.

A primary collection of his work is displayed in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem.


Family Portrait in a Landscape: ca 1620


Jonker Ramp and his Sweetheart: 1623

It is assumed that the painting represents the Prodigal Son.


Singing Boy with a Flute: 1623-25

This Caravaggesque painting recalls similar busts of plumed, piping youth by Hendrick Terbrugghen and is typical of the Utrecht School.


Portrait of a Man

Jacob Pietersz Olycan: 1625

Anetta Hanemans: 1625

Anna van der Aar: 1626

Isaac Abrahamsz Massa: 1626

Saint Luke: ca 1625

Saint Matthew: ca 1625


Boy holding a Flute (Hearing): 1626-28

The painting belongs to a series representing the five senses.


Portrait of a Man: ca 1627

Following a Renaissance portrait formula, Hals presents the sitter within an oval, one hand projecting beyond the frame in trompe l'oeil fashion, in a very small, almost miniature image. Hals's brisk rendering has something of a commedia dell'arte character.


Young Man with a Skull - Vanitas: 1626-28

Although the young man holding a skull in his hand has occasionally been identified as Hamlet, this interpretation is probably incorrect. It is much more likely to be a Dutch vanitas allegory. As in corresponding still Ivies featuring the same attribute, it voices a warning, calling on the spectator to think of death, even in youth. Such an interpretation may describe the content of the painting, but it still does not touch upon the actual meaning of the image. This is to be found in the way Hals has created a variation on a theme of Utrecht Caravaggism by equipping the model, a young man, with certain props and portraying him as someone posing for a painting. It is this that is the actual event or action of the painting, and as such it is very similar to the work of the young Rembrandt, who painted himself in similar garb working at his easel.

In spite of the borrowings from the Utrecht school, there are nevertheless distinct differences. The figure does not develop from the darkness towards the light, but is lit from behind. The trompe l'oeil effects, the foreshortened hand and the skull that almost seems to jut beyond the front of the pictorial plane, are all masterly devices in which illusion is less important than painterly wit.


The Merry Drinker: 1628-30

The Merry Drinker is painted in a bright, blond tonality which anticipates nineteenth-century Impressionism in its most brilliant manifestations. Manet must have been particularly impressed by this painting. The picture also shows Hals supreme mastery of one of the principal preoccupations of Baroque artists: the rendering of instantaneous emotion and movement. No seventeenth-century artist surpassed Hals in this fields. The realism and illusionism of Caravaggio and his followers look forced compared to Hals, and Rubens and van Dyck do not convey a comparable intensity in the suggestion of a fleeting instant packed with vitality. Hals's vigorous concentration on this was more than an ordinary rendering of reality. He selected moments when human nature reveals all its vital energy. Most frequently he shows the instant when the joy of life is at its highest.


Peeckelhaering: 1628-30

Peeckelhaering - Pickelherring in the English tradition - is a stock character found in the comic theater of most European countries.

With a mug or tankard in his left hand, the man looks back at the viewer, his head inclined and his expression a little woozy, a humorous evocation of the vice of intemperance. The dark make-up on the face indicates that the painter is depicting an actor in the role of Peeckelhaering, and the red and yellow of the costume had in fact since the 16th century been associated with the jester.


Portrait of a Man: 1630-33

This painting and its pendant represent a prosperous young Haarlem couple in their Sunday best. The man and the woman look at the artist very differently: she directly, he with an evasive, rakish tilt.


Portrait of a Woman: 1630-33

This painting and its pendant represent a prosperous young Haarlem couple in their Sunday best. The man and the woman look at the artist very differently: she directly, he with an evasive, rakish tilt.


The Meagre Company: 1633-37

Art historian and restorer Jan van Dijk found this militia portrait by Frans Hals and Pieter Codde so 'barren and frail', in 1758, 'that they might rightfully be called the meagre company'. Since then this militia portrait has been known by that name instead of the exact title: Officers of the Company of the Amsterdam Crossbow Civic Guard under Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw.

Frans Hals was commissioned to paint the portrait of Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw of the Amsterdam crossbowmen's guild together with their militiamen. He was to paint the piece in Amsterdam, where the members of the company lived. For Hals, who lived in Haarlem, this involved regular trips to the capital. In fact he was rarely to make the journey at all. In 1636, three years after receiving the commission, he had still only completed part of the painting. Eventually the militiamen took him to the task. In reply he responded, as the preserved documents state, that it had been agreed he would begin the portraits in Amsterdam and complete them in Haarlem. The representatives of the guild, however, claimed that they had even offered six guilders extra per portrait on the condition that Hals travels to Amsterdam to paint the men's bodies as well as their faces. Hals was to receive 66 guilders per person upon completion of the painting, a total of 1,056 guilders for the whole work. Despite the high rate, Hals could no longer be persuaded to make the journey to Amsterdam. He suggested that the unfinished work be brought to Haarlem, where he would complete the sitters' attire. Then he proposed to finish painting the faces, assuming that the militiamen did not object to travelling to Haarlem. By now the dispute had become so heated that the guild decided to ask another artist to complete the painting. The task fell to Pieter Codde, a strange choice since Codde's paintings were usually small and meticulous. Codde lived in Amsterdam, though, and may even have been a member of the militia company.

Frans Hals painted the general outlines of the composition and completed some of the faces and hands, but only the ensign on the left, with the shiny satin jacket, is entirely by his hand. Pieter Codde painted the costumes and the portraits which Hals failed to complete.


The Meagre Company (Detail)

The exact title of the painting, the left side of it being illustrated here, is Officers of the Company of the Amsterdam Crossbow Civic Guard under Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw. It was commissioned from Frans Hals in 1633, but in 1636, when he had not yet finished it, was given to Pieter Codde for completition. It is dated at the right edge near the centre: ca. 1637.


The Meagre Company (Detail)

The exact title of the painting, the right side of it being illustrated here, is Officers of the Company of the Amsterdam Crossbow Civic Guard under Captain Reynier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw.


The Meagre Company (Detail)

Only the ensign on the left, with the shiny satin jacket, is entirely by Frans Hals's hand. The skill with which this figure was painted did not escape the critical eye of Vincent van Gogh, who wrote after visiting the Rijksmuseum in 1885 of the 'orange, white and blue fellow in the left corner... seldom have I seen a more divinely beautiful figure.'


The Meagre Company (Detail)


Pieter van den Broecke: ca 1633

In this portrait there is a perfect match of a painter's style to the sitter. Hals's bold, direct manner is ideally suited to portrayal of the Antwerp-born colonial trader Pieter van den Broecke (1585-1640) who lived in Haarlem. He was first active as a merchant in West Africa and subsequently served the Dutch East India Company in Java, Arabia, Persia and India. In 1630 he brought back to the Netherlands an important fleet from India and was rewarded by the Dutch East India Company for his seventeen years of service with a gold chain worth 1200 guilders. It is this chain which he proudly wears in the portrait.

In 1634 van den Broecke published an account of his exotic career which presents a purposeful and straightforward man who was typical of the aggressive entrepreneurs who shaped the Dutch commercial empire. This portrait, with its thrusting and confident pose, gives a similar impression and it is not surprising to find that it was used, in the form of an engraving by Adriaen Matham, as the frontispiece of van den Broecke's book. Van den Broecke knew Frans Hals well, acting as a witness at the baptism of Hals's daughter, Susanna, in 1634. The second witness was one Adriaen Jacobsz., almost certainly the Adriaen Matham who engraved the portrait for van den Broecke's autobiography.


Tieleman Roosterman: 1634

This painting is a characteristic example of both the mature style of Hals and the taste of the commissioners of his portraits.


Lucas de Clercq: ca 1635

Feyntje van Steenkiste: ca 1635

Isaac Abrahamsz Massa: ca 1635

Family Portrait: ca 1635

Jean de la Chambre: 1638

Willem van Heythuysen: ca 1638

Claes Duyst van Voorhout: ca 1638

Portrait of a Standing Woman: 1643-45


Portrait of a Man: 1644

The painting is dated on the reverse side.

It has been assumed that the sitter is Nicolaes Tulp, the famous physician of Amsterdam.


Willem Coenraetsz Coymans: 1645

Virtuosity of brushwork and the ability to define clearly and succinctly the salient features of his sitters made Hals the greatest of Dutch portrait painter after Rembrandt. Painting directly on the canvas without preliminary drawing, the fluidity and expressiveness of his style was later to influence nineteenth-century French and American painters, who also sought to achieve instantaneous effects of reality in painting.


Jasper Schade: ca 1645

Hals's most penetrating characterizations date from the last decades of his life. With uncanny subtlety, he grasped the personalities of all types: the strong and the vulnerable, the pompous and the meek, the brutal and the tender. Though he found some sitters more congenial than others, the aged master never seems to have been bored with his job. During these years he was especially sympathetic to sitters of his own generation. The pictorial reserve of his last phase was particularly suitable for the portrayal of his peers, whose age and tastes made them shun the new vogue for the ostentatious. But we sense he could also be critical of them.

He was, however, more devastating when appraising members of the younger generation who found themselves dissatisfied with their father's tastes, and began to imitate the manners and clothes of the French nobility. Yet the artist was able to satisfy the desire of young patrons for rich effects without losing his extraordinary sensitivity to tonal gradations as seen in his half-length of Jasper Schade, a patrician of Utrecht who later was representative of his province to the States-General.

Hals's characterization of him, and his firm control of pictorial organization, convinces us that as a young man his sitter was a vain, proud peacock, an impression confirmed by a contemporary report that he spent extravagant sums on his wardrobe. In a letter written in 1645 (almost certainly the date of Hals's portrait) his uncle admonished his son, then in Paris, not to run up tremendous bills with his tailors the way his cousin Jasper Schade had done.

A subtle emphasis on verticality in the portrait contributes to Jasper's haughty air - not that an emphasis on vertical forms express arrogance, but here it certainly does. His hat's upward turned brim and the straight arrangement of his long hair accent the length of the face of a man looking down at people below his station. And while thin, frail bodies may contain most noble spirits; this one hardly inspires confidence in its inner strength. As dazzling as Hals's appraisal of his sitter are the zigzag and angular brushstrokes that suggest the nervous dance of bright light on his grey taffeta jacket while creating an electrifying movement on the picture surface.

Rene Descartes: ca 1649

Rene Descartes is perhaps the single most important thinker of the European Enlightenment. At an age most people graduate from college nowadays, he quietly and methodically went about tearing down all previous forms of knowledge and certainty and replaced them with a single, echoing truth: Cogito, ergo sum , "I think, therefore I am." From that point onwards in European culture, subjective truth would hold a higher and more important epistemological place than objective truth, skepticism would be built into every inquiry, method would hold a higher place than practice, and the mind would be separated from the body.


Stephanus Geraerdts: 1650-52

The companion-pieces representing the couple are unfortunately separated.


Isabella Coymans: 1650-52

The companion-pieces representing the couple are unfortunately separated.


Stephanus Geraerdts and Isabella Coymans: 1650-52

Stefanus holds out his hand to his wife Isabella Coymans, who, in a matching portrait which is not, unfortunately, in the same collection, offers him a rose in return. The man (and the couple) radiates warmth. His full figure, his smile and his rich clothing are executed with a jaunty, impressionistic stroke in black, white and gold.


The Painter Jan Asselyn: 1650's

In the early seventeenth century portraiture became the predominant and most flourishing branch of painting in Holland; after the heroic struggle for national independence the Dutch merchants, who had laid the foundation of the country' wealth, were disposed to have their portraits painted - singly or in groups - for presentation to their families, their heirs or some society.

In Frans Hals' work we can see almost every type of portrait: full-length, half-length, group portraits, studies of heads. Background detail is almost non-existent, the pictures usually being of a summary simplicity with figures in dark clothes and neutral backgrounds. Interpretation of character and expression is the dominant feature, and by means of effective poses and masterly brushwork, made up of black and white and grey strokes, the artist expressed the essence of his sitter's personality. In most cases we do not even know who the sitters were, and it is only recently that the dashing figure in this picture has been identified as the painter Jan Asselyn.


Vincent Laurensz van der Vinne: 1655-60

Van der Vinne (1628-1702) was a Haarlem painter who founded a minor dynasty of easily confused artists because of the penchant of successive generations of his family to give their sons the same Christian names.


Frans Post: 1655

The identification of the friendly sitter for this small informal portrait as the Haarlem landscapist Frans Post (ca. 1612-1680) is based on an inscription written on the lower margin of an impression of the first state of Jonas Suyderhoef's reverses engraving of it at the Albertina, Vienna. The print and the little painting are almost identical in size, which suggests that the painting was painted as a 'modello' for the engraving.


Portrait of a Man: 1655

The painting belonged to the collection of the Rothschild family in Vienna from 1898 to 1938 when the German requisitioned it. After World War II it was in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna until 1998 when the Austrian government returned the painting to the Rothschild's who later auctioned it. Since 2003 the painting is in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein.


Tyman Oosdorp: 1656

This penetrating portrait is typical of Frans Hals.

After 1641, Frans Hals never again employ any positive or vivid color whatever in the accessories of his portraits, his flesh tones become much lower, and, above all, the flesh shadows duskier and tending to blackness. At first this last trait is not so strongly pronounced, but as we get farther onwards from the year 1641 the tendency increases, and in one or two extreme instances, such as the portrait of Tyman Oosdorp, flesh shadows are in places absolutely black.


Portrait of a Preacher: 1658-60

It was suggested that the sitter may be Jan Ruyll, the Haarlem minister. However, there is no evidence to support any identification.


Portrait of a Seated Woman: 1660-66

The superb painting is Hals's only existing small female portrait datable to his last period.


Herman Langelius: ca 1660

Herman Langelius (1614-66) was the leading Amsterdam minister.


Source: Web Gallery of Art

Source: Art Renewal Center


This page is the work of Senex Magister

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