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Frans Hals | Dutch Golden Age painter

From: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The celebrated portraitist and genre painter Frans Hals (1582-1666) has been placed second only to Rembrandt and, during the past hundred years, to Vermeer in the pantheon of great Dutch painters of the Golden Age.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, Hals was actually the most admired artist in some quarters - especially in Paris, since Vermeer’s small oeuvre was still only beginning to be defined, and Hals' bourgeois subjects, his often colorful palette, and above all his bold brushwork became more inspiring to Realist and Impressionist painters than was the venerable model of Rembrandt.



Like many less famous Dutch artists, Hals was actually from the Spanish Netherlands; his parents moved from Antwerp to Haarlem when he was quite young (probably about 1586, and certainly before his brother, the genre painter Dirck Hals [1591-1656], was born). Frans reportedly studied with the Mannerist painter and writer on art Karel van Mander I (1548-1606), probably about 1600–1603.
He joined the Haarlem painters’ guild in 1610 and married about the same time. The earliest known works by Hals are impressive formal portraits of 1612-14, when he was already about thirty years old.
From 1612-1624, Hals served in the Saint George civic guard in Haarlem; his portrait of that company’s officers, of 1616 (Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem), was the first of about ten large group portraits that Hals painted for public institutions.
The last two, depicting the male and female regents of the old men’s almshouse in Haarlem (Frans Hals Museum), date from about 1664, when the artist was about eighty-two years old.
From the 1860s onward, these works and others by Hals in his hometown museum made Haarlem a mecca for painters such as Courbet, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Sargent, Whistler, Chase, and other masters of the brush, especially from France and America.


As in the case of Vermeer, the French art and social critic Théophile Thoré (1807–1869) was an early champion of Hals.
Haarlem had been a fairly cosmopolitan artistic center since the 1580s, with internationally known artists such as Van Mander, Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem (1562-1638), and above all the great draftsman and engraver (and, from 1600 on, painter) Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617).
Nonetheless, Hals’ Merrymakers at Shrovetide, of about 1616, is more colorful, painterly, and swirling with surface movement than almost any Dutch painting to date. Its shift in style from slightly earlier works by Hals probably reflects his study trip to Antwerp from about early August until mid-November in 1616.
The way the crowded figures and objects on the table completely fill the frame and appear pressed against the picture plane, and are painted in broad, open brushstrokes, with bold colors and shadows rendered in tones of blue and green, recalls works by Rubens of about 1610-15 and early pictures by his young colleague Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), including the Adoration of the Shepherds, of 1616-17.
In Antwerp, Hals may also have seen oil sketches and impetuously executed history pictures by the teenaged prodigy Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641).
By November 1616, Hals’ wife and two of their three small children had died. In February 1617, the painter married a Haarlem woman who gave birth to a daughter nine days later. Ten other children from this marriage are known. For the next half-century, Hals rarely left Haarlem, where he was respected and successful but never prosperous.

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

His clients included a good number of burgomasters and wealthy citizens such as leading figures in the local beer and cloth industries. At various times, and especially in his late years, Hals struggled financially, mainly because of the large size of his family and the fact that few Dutch portraitists were well paid.
The notion that Hals’ difficulties had more to do with drinking and lack of discipline was first introduced by the inventive biographer Arnold Houbraken in 1718 and flourished in the late nineteenth century. This image of Hals (like Houbraken’s biography of Jan Steen) was simply derived from his genre paintings and is unsupported—indeed, contradicted—by documentary evidence.
Hals’ popular scenes of “everyday life” (which date mainly from the 1620s and 1630s) are in fact highly conventionalized essays on contemporary social customs and the human comedy in general.
As a brilliant portraitist, the artist was quite capable of lending his genre figures strongly individualized characters and convincing expressions, as he did in his seductive picture of a country courtesan, The Gipsy Girl (Musée du Louvre, Paris).
His pictures of mirthful children and of diverse fisher folk were evidently based on life studies as well (unfortunately, no drawings by Hals are known). However, the majority of Hals’ genre pictures, like the Young Man and Woman in an Inn, of 1623, employ standard types in clever variations.

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

This becomes obvious when one compares the figures (especially the young “ladies”) in the canvas of 1623–25 and a panel of about 1625, The Smoker. Both paintings address the theme of the “Modern-Day Prodigal Son” (the title of a Dutch play published in 1630), while the earlier one recalls a contemporary adage: “the nuzzle of dogs, the affection of whores, and the hospitality of innkeepers: None of it comes without cost”.
The theme of frivolous youth was topical in the Dutch Republic, at a time when the older generation complained (like postwar parents in America) that their spoiled kids knew nothing of hardship and earning one’s keep.
Despite the great reputation of Hals’ best known genre scenes and group portraits, the essence of his achievement is found in portraits of individuals, as in the Portrait of a Man, possibly Nicolaes Pietersz Duyst van Voorhout, of about 1636-38.
The confident pose repeats that found in Hals’ famous picture The Laughing Cavalier, of 1624 (Wallace Collection, London), which is actually a formal portrait in which the dignified gentleman faintly smiles. In the later portrait, broadly brushed highlights suggest the shine of the satin jacket and the naturalistic effects of daylight, atmosphere, and movement all at once.

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

In addition, almost every stroke in the figure (but especially in the face) contributes to the impression of modeling and space, a fact that Hals’ contemporary imitators, later emulators, and many critics have misunderstood. The idea that Hals executed his pictures rapidly, advanced already by Houbraken in 1718, is nonsensical to conservators and close viewers of his technique.
What a few contemporaneous observers described as the impression of “life itself” in Hals’ work was arrived at with virtuoso flair but also careful control, and with an eye to the impression made by the work at a normal viewing distance and in the light of a seventeenth-century interior.
Comparison with the flattening effects of Manet reveals at once great admiration of Hals (and Velázquez) and a different concept of representation.
What is more comparable with the achievement of later portraitists is Hals’ ability to suggest distinctive personalities. Whether in the dashing portraits of the 1630s or the more sober examples of the next three decades (as in Paulus Verschuur, of 1643), Hals conveys individuality more convincingly than almost any artist of the time, except Rembrandt.

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

More than a century later (in 1774), Sir Joshua Reynolds, who esteemed Rubens, Van Dyck, and Rembrandt, told students of the Royal Academy in London that Hals’ “composition of the face” - no doubt meaning mainly the handling of the eyes and mouth—produced “that strong-marked character of individual nature, which is so remarkable in his portraits, and is not found in an equal degree in any other painter”.
Of course, this ability is not equally evident in every work. Many of Hals’ portraits suggest friendliness, preoccupation, or reserve, without giving away much about the person.
The emphasis placed in modern times on personal thoughts and feelings was barely beginning in the seventeenth century, with exceptional authors such as Shakespeare and John Donne. Hals’ wonderful portraits of married couples and families (like the large group portrait in the Museo Thyssen-Bornesmisza, Madrid) convey a strong sense of individuality but are essentially about the institution of marriage.
Similarly, many of Hals’ sitters wanted to be portrayed as representatives of a certain type or class.
It is precisely in this context of strong social conventions that Hals’ frequently compelling sense of individual character is so remarkable. | © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter




Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Hals, Frans - Pittore (Anversa 1582 o 1583 - Haarlem 1666). Pur partecipe delle innovazioni caravaggesche importate dalla scuola di Utrecht, la sua pittura se ne distanzia per l'originalità nell'uso del colore e per la tecnica vigorosa.
Essenzialmente ritrattista, si esercitò anche sul ritratto di gruppo, sia privato (Gruppo di famiglia, ca. 1648, Londra, National Gallery) sia ufficiale (I reggenti dell'ospizio dei vecchi, con il suo pendant Le reggenti, 1664, Haarlem, Frans Hals Museum).
Apprezzato dai contemporanei, fu criticamente riscoperto solo nel 19º sec. e a lui guardarono con interesse artisti come G. Courbet, E. Manet, ecc.

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Vita ed Opere

Iscritto dal 1610 nella gilda di San Luca di Haarlem, dove la sua famiglia si era trasferita dopo il 1585, presumibilmente fece il suo apprendistato presso C. van Mander ma, fin dalle prime opere, la sua pittura si presenta intrisa di un vivace realismo e diretta ad ottenere i più liberi e intensi effetti di colore e di luce.
Essenzialmente ritrattista, i suoi modelli furono intellettuali e borghesi (J. Zellius, 1611, Haarlem, Frans Halsmuseum; W. van Heythuysen, eccezionalmente a figura intera, 1625 circa, Monaco, Bayerische Staatsgemäldegalerie, e in posa estremamente informale, 1638 circa, Bruxelles, Musées royaux des beaux-arts; J. P. Olycan e A. Hanemans, 1625, l'Aja, Mauritshuis; W. C. Coymans, 1645, Washington, National gallery of art; J. Schade, 1645 circa, Praga, Galleria Nazionale; R. Descartes, 1649 circa, Copenaghen, Statens Museum for Kunst; ecc.); amò, però, anche rappresentare tipi popolari e caratteristici (Buffone che suona il flauto, 1623 circa, e Zingara ridente, 1628-30, Louvre; Peeckelhaerin, detto anche il Mulatto, 1628-30, Kassel, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, e Lipsia, Museum der bildenden Künste; Malle Babbe, detta la Strega di Haarlem, 1633-35, Berlino, Gemäldegalerie).

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Diede un nuovo impulso al ritratto di gruppo, sia privato (Ritratto di famiglia in un paesaggio, 1620 circa, coll. Boyne, del quale originariamente era parte Tre bambini con carretto tirato da una capra, Bruxelles, Musées royaux des beaux-arts; il già citato Gruppo di famiglia), sia ufficiale (due dipinti con il Banchetto degli ufficiali della guardia civica di s. Giorgio, 1616 e 1627 circa; Banchetto degli ufficiali della guardia civica di s. Adriano, 1627 circa; I reggenti dell'ospedale di s. Elisabetta, 1641, tutti conservati nel Frans Hals museum di Haarlem; ed ancora Ufficiali di una compagnia della guardia civica di Amsterdam, noto come De magere compagnie, 1633-36, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, l'unica opera eseguita fuori di Haarlem e terminata da P. Codde).
Uniche opere di soggetto religioso, ma che presentano le stesse caratteristiche dei ritratti, sono le tele con s. Luca e s. Matteo (1625 circa, Odessa, Museo).
Non sacrificò mai alla oggettiva rappresentazione fisionomica la vigoria della pittura, la qualità brillante dei colori, la prodigiosa rapidità e franchezza del tocco: anzi proprio nell'immediata, repentina evocazione l'immagine acquista una concretezza e un'evidenza straordinarie. | © Treccani

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter

Frans Hals 1580-1666 | Dutch Golden Age painter