Tour: Frans Hals (Dutch, c. 1582/1583–1666)« back to gallery
Frans Hals was the leading painter in seventeenth-century Haarlem, a Dutch city whose prosperity derived from brewing beer and producing luxury fabrics. Although Hals painted some scenes of daily life, he was primarily a portraitist. His large group portraits of the civic guards and the directors of charitable institutions, all of which remain in the Netherlands, are especially famous.
Avoiding flattery, Hals depicted his sitters with a lively candor that appealed to their robust, informal tastes. Winning political independence from Spain in 1648 and the freedom to worship in the new Protestant faith, the Dutch Republic was also immensely wealthy from overseas trade. Dutch burghers, while taking great pride in material possessions, were still socially conservative, most adhering to a modest and simple lifestyle.
By strict religious law, these early Protestants wore only black and white clothing, regardless of the expense of the textiles. Hals turned the stark outfits to an advantage, using the neutral clothes to set off his sitters' complexions against pale tan or dark gray backgrounds.
Frans Hals' Style and Technique
No drawings by Frans Hals survive. This absence of preliminary studies suggests that he improvised directly on his canvases. The sketchy brushstrokes also imply he worked very quickly. Hals, who entered the Haarlem artists' guild in 1610, adopted an ever freer, looser handling of paint over the course of his career.
To compare Hals' changing styles, it is instructive to look carefully at details, such as lace collars, that he treated very differently during his development. Two details of hands—separated by some twenty years—demonstrate an evolution in Hals' technique.
An earlier work, an elderly woman's hand grasping a prayer book, is modeled with brushstrokes that follow and define the contours, curving around each finger and highlighting her ring. The book is clearly detailed, too, including its tooled, gilt decorations.
A man's gloved hand holding another glove, painted much later, reads as strokes of pure, thick paint when seen at close range. The brushwork is dashed and choppy, suggesting the solid forms of the fingers and the limpness of the empty glove but not revealing any details. Some of Hals' last works are so spontaneous in the handling of paint as to appear abstract.
Timeline of Events in Europe during Hals' Lifetime
|1573||Haarlem, a Protestant stronghold, beseiged by Catholic Spanish army|
|c. 1582/1583||Frans Hals born in Antwerp|
|1582||Pope Gregory XIII institutes modern calendar|
|1597||Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens enters painters' guild in Antwerp|
|1599||Globe Theater, famous as Shakespeare's playhouse, opens in London|
|1609||Twelve Years' Truce ends war between Spain and the Netherlands|
|1610||Frans Hals enters painters' guild in Haarlem|
|1624||French painter Nicolas Poussin moves to Rome|
|1626||Dutch traders buy Manhattan Island and found colonies of New Amsterdam and Haarlem|
|1632||Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck knighted by British court|
|1642||Rembrandt paints The Night Watch, group portrait of an Amsterdam civic guard (Rijksmuseum)|
|1648||Treaty of Münster recognizes Netherlands' independence from Spain|
|1653||Johannes Vermeer enters painters' guild in Delft|
|1664||Dutch lose American colonies to the British; New Amsterdam renamed New York|
|1666||Frans Hals dies in Haarlem|
|1677||Dutch prince William III of Orange marries British princess Mary; in 1689, they become William and Mary of England|
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