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Frans Hals

Born: 1580
Birthplace: Antwerp, Belgium
Died: 29-Aug-1666
Location of death: Haarlem, Netherlands
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, St. Bavo Church, Haarlem, Holland

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Painter

Nationality: Netherlands
Executive summary: Dutch portraitist

Dutch painter, born at Antwerp in 1580 or 1581, and died at Haarlem in 1666. As a portrait painter second only to Rembrandt in Holland, he displayed extraordinary talent and quickness in the exercise of his art coupled with improvidence in the use of the means which that art secured to him. At a time when the Dutch nation fought for independence and won it, Hals appears in the ranks of its military guilds. He was also a member of the Chamber of Rhetoric, and (1644) chairman of the Painters' Corporation at Haarlem. But as a man he had failings. He so ill-treated his first wife, Anneke Hermansz, that she died prematurely in 1616; and he barely saved the character of his second, Lysbeth Reyniers, by marrying her in 1617. Another defect was partiality to drink, which led him into low company. Still he brought up and supported a family of ten children with success until 1652, when the forced sale of his pictures and furniture, at the suit of a baker to whom he was indebted for bread and money, brought him to absolute penury. The inventory of the property seized on this occasion only mentions three mattresses and bolsters, an armoire, a table and five pictures. This humble list represents all his worldly possessions at the time of his bankruptcy. Subsequently to this he was reduced to still greater straits, and his rent and firing were paid by the municipality, which afterwards gave him (1664) an annuity of 200 florins. We may admire the spirit which enabled him to produce some of his most striking works in his unhappy circumstances: we find his widow seeking outdoor relief from the guardians of the poor, and dying obscurely in a hospital.

Hals's pictures illustrate the various strata of society into which his misfortunes led him. His banquets or meetings of officers, of sharpshooters, and guildsmen are the most interesting of his works. But they are not more characteristic than his low-life pictures of itinerant players and singers. His portraits of gentlefolk are true and noble, but hardly so expressive as those of fishwives and tavern heroes.

His first master at Antwerp was probably van Noort, as has been suggested by M.G.S. Davies, but on his removal to Haarlem Frans Hals entered the atelier of van Mander, the painter and historian, of whom he possessed some pictures which went to pay the debt of the baker already alluded to. But he soon improved upon the practice of the time, illustrated by J. van Schoreel and Antonio Moro, and, emancipating himself gradually from tradition, produced pictures remarkable for truth and dexterity of hand. We prize in Rembrandt the golden glow of effects based upon artificial contrasts of low light in immeasurable gloom. Hals was fond of daylight of silvery sheen. Both men were painters of touch, but of touch on different keys -- Rembrandt was the bass, Hals the treble. The latter is perhaps more expressive than the former. He seizes with rare intuition a moment in the life of his sitters. What nature displays in that moment he reproduces thoroughly in a very delicate scale of color, and with a perfect mastery over every form of expression. He becomes so clever at last that exact tone, light and shade, and modelling are all obtained with a few marked and fluid strokes of the brush.

In every form of his art we can distinguish his earlier style from that of later years. It is curious that we have no record of any work produced by him in the first decade of his independent activity, save an engraving by Jan van de Velde after a lost portrait of "The Minister Johannes Bogardus", who died in 1614. The earliest works by Frans Hals that have come down to us, "Two Boys Playing and Singing" in the gallery of Cassel, and a "Banquet of the officers of the St. Joris Doele" or Arquebusiers of St. George (1616) in the museum of Haarlem, exhibit him as a careful draughtsman capable of great finish, yet spirited withal. His flesh, less clear than it afterwards becomes, is pastose and burnished. Later he becomes more effective, displays more freedom of hand, and a greater command of effect. At this period we note the beautiful full-length of "Madame van Beresteyn" at the Louvre in Paris, and a splendid full-length portrait of "Willem van Heythuysen" leaning on a sword in the Liechtenstein collection at Vienna. Both these pictures are equalled by the other "Banquet of the officers of the Arquebusiers of St. George" (with different portraits) and the "Banquet of the officers of the Cloveniers Doelen" or Arquebusiers of St. Andrew of 1627 and an "Assembly of the officers of the Arquebusiers of St. Andrew" of 1633 in the Haarlem Museum. A picture of the same kind in the town hall of Amsterdam, with the date of 1637, suggests some study of the masterpieces of Rembrandt, and a similar influence is apparent in a picture of 1641 at Haarlem, representing the "Regents of the Company of St. Elizabeth" and in the portrait of "Maria Voogt" at Amsterdam. But Rembrandt's example did not create a lasting impression on Hals. He gradually dropped more and more into grey and silvery harmonies of tone; and two of his canvases, executed in 1664, "The Regents and Regentesses of the Oudemannenhuis" at Haarlem, are masterpieces of color, though in substance all but monochromes. In fact, ever since 1641 Hals had shown a tendency to restrict the gamut of his palette, and to suggest color rather than express it. This 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", of the Berlin Gallery. As this tendency coincides with the period of his poverty, it has been suggested that one of the reasons, if not the only reason, of his predilection for black and white pigment was the cheapness of these colors as compared with the costly lakes and carmines.

As a portrait painter Frans Hals had scarcely the psychological insight of a Rembrandt or Velázquez, though in a few works, like the "Admiral de Ruyter", in Earl Spencer's collection, the "Jacob Olycan" at the Hague Gallery, and the "Albert van der Meer" at Haarlem town hall, 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" in the Wallace Collection to the imbecile grin of the "Hille Bobbe" in the Berlin Museum. To this group of pictures belong Baron Gustav Rothschild's "Jester", the "Bohémienne" at the Louvre, and the "Fisher Boy" at Antwerp, whilst the "Portrait of the Artist with his second Wife" at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, 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 Frans Hals's achievements is the group called "The Painter and his Family" in the possession of Colonel Warde, which was almost unknown until it appeared at the winter exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1906.

Though a visit to Haarlem town hall, which contains the five enormous Doelen groups and the two Regenten pictures, is as necessary for the student of Hals's art as a visit to the Prado in Madrid is for the student of Velázquez, good examples of the Dutch master have found their way into most of the leading public and private collections. In the British Isles, besides the works already mentioned, portraits from his brush are to be found at the National Gallery, the Edinburgh Gallery, the Glasgow Corporation Gallery, Hampton Court, Buckingham Palace, Devonshire House, and the collections of Lord Northbrooke, Lord Ellesmere, Lord Iveagh and Lord Spencer.

Hals's surviving body of work is comprised of nearly three hundred paintings. At Amsterdam is the celebrated "Flute Player", once in the Dupper collection at Dort; at Brussels, the patrician "Heythuysen"; at the Louvre, "Descartes"; at Dresden, the painter "Van der Vinne." Hals's sitters were taken from every class of society -- admirals, generals and burgomasters pairing with merchants, lawyers, clerks. To register all that we find in public galleries would involve much space. There are eight portraits at Berlin, six at Cassel, five at St. Petersburg, six at the Louvre, two at Brussels, five at Dresden, two at Gotha. In private collections, chiefly in Paris, Haarlem and Vienna, we find an equally important number. Amongst the painter's most successful representations of fishwives and termagants we should distinguish the "Hille Bobbe" of the Berlin Museum, and the "Hille Bobbe with her Son" in the Dresden Gallery. Itinerant players are best illustrated in the Neville-Goldsmith collection at the Hague, and the Six collection at Amsterdam. Boys and girls singing, playing or laughing, or men drinking, are to be found in the gallery of Schwerin, in the Arenberg collection, and in the royal palace at Brussels.

For two centuries after his death Frans Hals 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", now at the Berlin Museum, realized five shillings at the Enschede sale in 1786. The splendid portrait of the man with the sword at the Liechtenstein gallery was sold in 1800 for £4, 5s. 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 d'Anvers" was bid up to £4420, while in 1908 the National Gallery paid £25,000 for the large group from the collection of Lord Talbot de Malahide. The Frans Hals Museum opened in Haarlem in 1913.

Of the master's numerous family none has left a name except Frans Hals the Younger, born about 1622, who died in 1669. His pictures represent cottages and poultry; and the "Vanitas" at Berlin, a table laden with gold and silver dishes, cups, glasses and books, is one of his finest works and deserving of a passing glance. Quite in another form, and with much of the freedom of the elder Hals, Dirck Hals, his brother (born at Haarlem, died 1656), is a painter of festivals and ballrooms. But Dirck had too much of the freedom and too little of the skill in drawing which characterized his brother. He remains second on his own ground to Palamedes. A fair specimen of his art is a "Lady playing a Harpsichord to a Young Girl and her Lover" in the van der Hoop collection at Amsterdam, now in the Rijksmuseum. More characteristic, but not better, is a large company of gentlefolk rising from dinner, in the Academy at Vienna.

Brother: Dirck Hals (painter)
Wife: Annetje Harmensdochter Abeel (d. 1615)
Wife: Lysbeth Reyniers (m. 1617)
Son: Frans Hals the Younger


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