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Frans Hals

Frans Hals (approx. 1580 - August 26, 1666) was a Dutch painter of the Dutch Golden Age. As a portrait painter, by some considered as second only to Rembrandt, in Holland, he displayed extraordinary talent and quickness in the exercise of his art. He lived almost his entire life in Haarlem, in today's Netherlands.



Frans was born in 1580 or 1581, probably in Antwerp. In 1585, after Antwerpen had fallen to the Spaniards1 the family moved to Haarlem in the Northern Low Countries. Frans would stay there his whole life.

Frans took painting lessons from the Flemish painter Karel van Mander (1548-1606), who also had fled from the Spaniards, but his ideas left no visible trail in Frans' work. The earliest work that we know of dates from 1611: Jacobus Zaffius (Frans Hals Museum - Haarlem). His 'breakthrough' came in 1616, with the life-size group portrait The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company (Frans Hals Museum).

As a man he had failings for he so ill-treated his first wife, Anneke Hermansz (Annetje Harmensdochter Abeel), that she died prematurely in 1616; and he barely saved the character of his second, Lysbeth Reyniers, by marrying her in 1617. He also liked to drink, which led him into the company of people of ill repute.

Although Frans' work was in high demand throughout his life, his financial situation was worrysome most of the time. Since his painting did not earn him enough money, Frans doubled as an art dealer and restaurator. His creditors brought him to court several times. He brought up and supported a family of ten children - two from his first wife, eight from his second wife - with success till 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 in 1664 an annuity of 200 forms.

He produced some of his most striking works during his unhappy years after which his widow seeking outdoor relief from the guardians of the poor, died obscurely in a hospital.

Frans Hals died in Haarlem in 1666 and was buried in the city's St. Bavo Church.

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

1This was during the Eighty Years War, a war between the Low Countries and Spain which lasted from 1568 till 1648.

Artistic career

His first master at Antwerp was probably Van Noort but he then entered the atelier of Carel van Mander, the painter and historian, of whom he possessed some pictures which went to pay the debt of the baker as mentioned above. He soon improved upon the practice of the time, illustrated by Jan van Scorel 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 his 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 Hals that have come down to us, Two Boys Playing and Singing, and a Banquet of the officers of the St Joris Doele or Arquebusiers of St George (1616), 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. 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 or Arquebusiers of St Andrew of 1627 and an Assembly of the officers of the Arquebusiers of St Andrew of 1633. A similar with the date of 1637, suggests some study of the masterpieces of Rembrandt, and a similar influence is apparent in a picture of 1641, representing the Regents of the Company of St Elizabeth and in the portrait of Maria Voogt at Amsterdam.

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, 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. 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.


Frans Hals is most famous for his portraits, mainly of rich citizens. He also painted large group portraits, many of which showed civil guards. He was a Baroque painter, with intimate realism and a radical approach.

Hals' 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.

He changed the face of portraiture for centuries to come. His form of painting revealed both a realistic depiction of the subject and an insight into the psyche of the subject. The portraits capture the portrayed in a split-second moment, what you would see of the person in an everyday occurrence.

The portrayals of his subjects are also comical. The characters are no longer in a dignified, urbane pose, but instead are informal and caught in the picture without knowing it.

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

From 1620 till 1640 Frans painted many double portraits of married couples, on separate panels, the man on the left panel, his wife at his right. Only once did Frans portray a couple on one canvas: Double Portrait of a Couple, (circa 1623, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam).

His style changed throughout his life. Vivid colours were gradually replaced by pieces where one colour dominated. Later in his life darker tones, even with lots of black, began to take over. His brush strokes became looser in later years, fine details became less important than an overall impression. Also where his earlier pieces radiated gaiety and liveliness, his later portraits emphasized the stature and dignity of the people portrayed. This austerity is amply displayed in Regentesses of the Old Men's Alms House (Frans Hals Museum, c. 1664),

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 Hille Bobbe. To this group of pictures belong Baron Gustav Rothschilds Jester, the Bohemienne and the Fisher Boy, 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.

The celebrated Flute Player, once in the Dupper collection at Dordrecht; the patrician Heythuysen; at the Louvre, Descartes; the painter Van der Vinne . Hals' sitters were taken from every class of society, admirals, generals and burgomasters pairing with merchants, lawyers, and clerks.

A large collection of his work is at display in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem.



Frans greatly influenced his brother Dirck Hals (born at Haarlem, 1591-1656) who was also a painter. Also four of his sons followed in his path and became painter:

Of the master's numerous family none has left a name except Franz Hals the Younger , born about 1622, who died in 1669. His pictures represent cottages and poultry; 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, Dirk Hals , his brother, was a painter of festivals and ballrooms. But Dirk had too much of the freedom and too little of the skill in drawing which characterized his brother.

Other contemporary painters that took inpsiration from Frans Hals:

Late recognition

His reputation waned after his death. For two centuries after his death 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 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.

Starting at the middle of the 19th century his fame 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 4420, while in 1908 the National Gallery paid 25,000 for the large group from the collection of Lord Talbot de Malahide.

From 1870 to 1920 his paintings served as a model for portrait painters. Impressionism also owed him. The French painter Edouard Manet was profoundly influenced by Frans Hals. Many of his paintings were then sold to rich American collectors, who appreciated his uncritical attitude towards wealth and status.

See also

External Links

  • Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem
  • Web Gallery of Art (large collection of pictures)
  • Web Gallery of Art (extensive biography)
  • Olga's Gallery
  • The Artchive

Last updated: 02-10-2005 10:57:38
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55