Frans Hals the Elder (c. 1582 - 26 August 1666) was a Dutch Golden Age portrait painter who lived and worked in Haarlem. He is notable for his loose painterly brushwork, and he helped introduce this lively style of painting into Dutch art. Hals played an important role in the evolution of 17th-century group portraiture.
Hals was born in 1582 or 1583 in Antwerp as the son of cloth merchant Franchois Fransz Hals van Mechelen (c.1542–1610) and his second wife Adriaentje van Geertenryck.Like many, Hals' parents fled during the Fall of Antwerp (1584–1585) from the Spanish Netherlands to Haarlem, where he lived for the remainder of his life. Hals studied under Flemish émigré Karel van Mander,whose Mannerist influence, however, is barely noticeable in Hals' work.
In 1610, Hals became a member of the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke, and he started to earn money as an art restorer for the city council. He worked on their large art collection that Karel van Mander had described in his Schilderboeck ("Painter's Book") published in Haarlem in 1604. The most notable of these were the works of Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Jan van Scorel, and Jan Mostaert that hung in the St. Janskerk in Haarlem. The restoration work was paid for by the city of Haarlem, since all Catholic religious art had been confiscated after the satisfactie van Haarlem had been artd in 1578, which had formerly given Catholics equal rights to Protestants. However, the entire collection of paintings was not formally possessed by the city council until 1625, after the city fathers had decided which paintings were suitable for the city hall. The remaining art that was considered too "Roman Catholic" was sold to Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen, a fellow guild member, on the condition that he remove it from the city. It was in this cultural context that Hals began his career in portraiture, since the market had disappeared for religious themes.
The earliest known example of Hals' art is the portrait of Jacobus Zaffius (1611). His 'breakthrough' came with the life-sized group portrait The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1616. His most noted portrait today is the one of René Descartes which he made in 1649.
Statue of Frans Hals in Florapark, Haarlem
Frans Hals married his first wife Anneke Harmensdochter around 1610. Frans was of Catholic birth, however, so their marriage was recorded in the city hall and not in church. Unfortunately, the exact date is unknown because the older marriage records of the Haarlem city hall before 1688 have not been preserved.Anneke was born 2 January 1590 as the daughter of bleacher Harmen Dircksz and Pietertje Claesdr Ghijblant, and her maternal grandfather, linen producer Claes Ghijblant of Spaarne 42, bequeathed the couple the grave in St. Bavochurch where both are buried, though Frans took over 40 years to join his first wife there. Anneke died in 1615, shortly after the birth of their third child and, of the three, Harmen survived infancy and one had died before Hals' second marriage.As biographer Seymour Slive has pointed out, older stories of Frans Hals abusing his first wife were confused with 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 in May 1615. 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. After his first wife died, Hals took on the young daughter of a fishmonger to look after his children and, in 1617, he married Lysbeth Reyniers. They married in Spaarndam, a small village outside the banns of Haarlem, because she was already 8 months pregnant. Frans Hals was a devoted father, and they went on to have eight children.
Contemporaries such as Rembrandt moved their households according to the caprices of their patrons, but Hals remained in Haarlem and insisted that his customers come to him. According to the Haarlem archives, a schutterstuk that Hals started in Amsterdam was finished by Pieter Codde because Hals refused to paint in Amsterdam, insisting that the militiamen come to Haarlem to sit for their portraits. For this reason, we can be sure that all sitters were either from Haarlem or were visiting Haarlem when they had their portraits made.
Hals' work was in demand throughout his life, but he lived so long that he eventually went out of style as a painter and experienced financial difficulties. In addition to his painting, he continued throughout his life to work as a restorer, art dealer, and art tax expert for the city councilors. His creditors took him to court several times, and he sold his belongings to settle his debt with a baker in 1652. The inventory of the property seized mentions only three mattresses and bolsters, an armoire, a table, and five pictures (these were by himself, his sons, van Mander, and Maarten van Heemskerck).Left destitute, he was given an annuity of 200 florins in 1664 by the municipality.
The Dutch nation fought for independence during the Eighty Years' War, and Hals was a member of the local schutterij, a military guild. He included a self-portrait in his 1639 painting of the St. Joris company, according to its 19th-century painting frame. (It has not been possible to confirm this.) It was not common for ordinary members to be painted, as that privilege was reserved for the officers. Frans Hals painted the company three times. Hals was also a member of a local chamber of rhetoric, and in 1644 he became chairman of the Guild of St. Luke.
Frans Hals died in Haarlem in 1666 and was buried in the city's St. Bavo Church. He had been receiving a city pension, which was highly unusual and a sign of the esteem with which he was regarded. After his death, his widow applied for aid and was admitted to the local almshouse, where she later died.
Frans Hals, later finished by Pieter Codde. De Magere Compagnie. 1637. Oil on canvas, 209 x 429 cm, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Hals is best known for his portraits, mainly of wealthy arts such as Pieter van den Broecke and Isaac Massa, whom he painted three times. He also painted large group portraits for local civic guards and for the regents of local hospitals. He was a Dutch Golden Age painter who practiced an intimate realism with a radically free approach. His pictures illustrate the various strata of society: banquets or meetings of officers, guildsmen, local councilmen from mayors to clerks, itinerant players and singers, gentlemen, fishwives, and tavern heroes. In his group portraits, such as The Banquet of the Officers of the St Adrian Militia Company in 1627, 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.
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 a moment in the life of his subjects with rare artion. 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. He became a popular portrait painter, and painted the wealthy of Haarlem on special occasions. He won many commissions for wedding portraits (the husband is traditionally situated on the left, and the wife situated on the right). His double portrait of the newly married Olycans hang side by side in the Mauritshuis, but many of his wedding portrait pairs have since been split up and are rarely seen together.
Main article: Marriage pendant portraits by Frans Hals
Portrait of Jacob Pietersz Olycan (1596-1638), 1625, Mauritshuis.
Portrait of Aletta Hanemans (1606-1653), bride of Jacob Olycan, 1625, Mauritshuis.
Paulus van Beresteyn, 1629, Louvre.
Catharina Both van der Eem, bride of Paulus Beresteyn, 1629, Louvre.
art Coymans (1591-1660), the husband of Dorothea Berck, 1644, Wadsworth Atheneum.
Dorothea Berck (1593-1684), wife of art Coymans, 1644, Private Collection.
Portrait of Stephan Geraedts, husband of Isabella Coymans, 1652, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.
Isabella Coymans, wife of Stephan Geraedts, 1652, Private Collection.
The only record of his work in the first decade of his independent activity is an engraving by Jan van de Velde copied from the lost portrait of The Minister Johannes Bogardus. Early works by Hals show him as a careful draughtsman capable of great finish yet spirited, such as Two singing boys with a lute and a music book and Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia (1616). The flesh that 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.
Jester with a Lute, 1620–1625, canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
During this period, he painted the full-length portrait of Madame van Beresteyn (Louvre) and a full-length portrait of Willem van Heythuyzen leaning on a sword. Both these pictures are equalled by the other Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia (with different portraits) and the same militia in 1627 and Banquet of the Officers of the St Hadrian Militia of 1633. A similar painting with the date of 1639 suggests some study of Rembrandt masterpieces, and a similar influence is apparent in a group portrait of 1641 representing the regents of the St. Elisabeth Gasthuis and in his 1639 portrait of Maria Voogt at Amsterdam.
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: Couple in a garden: Wedding portrait of Isaac Abrahamsz. Massa and Beatrix van der Laan, (c. 1622, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam).
His style changed throughout his life. Paintings of vivid color were gradually replaced by pieces where one color dominated: black. This was probably due to the sober dress of his Protestant sitters, more than any personal preference. One simple way to observe this change is to look at all of the portraits that he painted through the years with his trademark pose leaning over the back of a chair:
Willem Heythuijsen by Frans Hals 1634
Later in his life, his brush strokes became looser, fine detail becoming less important than the overall impression. His earlier pieces radiated gaiety and liveliness, while his later portraits emphasized the stature and dignity of the people portrayed. This austerity is displayed in Regents of the St Elizabeth Hospital in 1641 and, two decades later, The Regents and Regentesses of the Old Men's Almshouse (c. 1664), which are masterpieces of color, though in substance all but monochromes. His restricted palette is particularly noticeable in his flesh tints, which became greyer from year to year, until finally the shadows were painted in almost absolute black, as in the Tymane Oosdorp.
This tendency coincides with the period when Hals was less popular among the wealthy, and 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. Both conclusions are probably correct, however, because Hals did not travel to his sitters, unlike his contemporaries, but let them come to him. This was good for business because he was exceptionally quick and efficient in his own well-fitted studio, but it was bad for business when Haarlem fell on hard times.
As a portrait painter, Hals had scarcely the psychological art of a Rembrandt or Velázquez, 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 Laughing Fisherboy, whilst 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.
Many of Hals' works have disappeared, but it is not known how many. According to the Frans Hals catalog raisonné, 1974, 222 paintings can be ascribed to Hals. This list was compiled by Seymour Slive in 1970−1974 who also wrote an exhibition catalogue in 1989 and produced an update to his catalog raisonné work in 2014. In 1989 another authority on Hals, Claus Grimm, disagreed with Slive and published a lower list of 145 paintings in his Frans Hals. Das Gesamtwerk.
It is not known whether Hals ever painted landscapes, still lifes or narrative pieces, but it is unlikely. His debut for Haarlem society in 1616 with his large group portrait for the St. George militia shows all three disciplines, but if that painting was his signboard for future commissions, it seems he was subsequently only hired for portraits. Many artists in the 17th century in Holland opted to specialise, and Hals also appears to have been a pure portrait specialist.