Oil Painting -> Frans Hals Painting

Frans Hals Painting

Frans Hals

Frans Hals (1582/83 – August 26, 1666) was a Dutch painter during 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 his art.


Details of Frans Hals’ life are fairly well known. He was born in 1582 or 1583 in Antwerp. His father was most likely Catholic. Around 1585 the family emigrated to Haarlem, as did many people from Flanders in that period.

It wasn't until he was 27 that Hals became a member of the Sint-Lucasgilde (St. Lucas Guild), but he must have been fully qualified much earlier. Various sources mention Karel van Mander as his master. In Haarlem Hals was married twice, and had a total of fourteen children. He live and worked in this flourishing city on the Spaarne (river) for his whole life, receiving commissions for countless portraits. The painter died when he was about 84, in 1666. He was interred in the old Bavo Church, under the choir, on the Grote Markt.


Many of Hals’ works have disappeared, but it is not known how many. According to the most authoritative present-day catalogue, compiled by Seymour Slive in 1970-1974 (Slive’s last great Hals exhibition catalogue followed in 1989), another 222 paintings can be ascribed to Hals. Another authority on Hals, Claus Grimm, believes this number to be lower (145) in his ‘Frans Hals. Das Gesamtwerk’ (1989). It is not known whether Hals ever made landscapes, still lifes or narrative pieces, but it is unlikely. Many artists in the 17th century in Holland opted to specialise, and Hals also appears to have been a pure specialist. He made portraits: individual portraits, portraits of married couples, (two pendants that are meant to hang next to each other) and group portraits (five rifle association pieces, now in Haarlem; portraits of regents and regentesses: three in total, also in Haarlem). In general, these portraits were commissioned by people in the middle and highest ranks of society at that time: authors, mayors, clergymen, traders and merchants and governors. The riflemen, at least the officers and the non-commissioned officers who ordered their group portraits usually also came from the slightly "higher" or more affluent circles. Hals also sometimes did genre painting: fishermen's children on the beach, a greengrocer woman, the ‘village idiot’ of Haarlem, Malle Babbe, and more of such pieces which, in a certain sense, can also be considered portraits, but which were most likely intended as ‘impressions of daily life’.

Painting technique

People often think that Hals ´threw´ his works on ‘aus einem Guss’ (in one toss) onto the canvas. Further research of a technical and a scientific nature has since clarified that this impression is not correct. True, the odd work was largely put down ‘alla prima’, i.e. without underdrawings or underpainting, but most of the works were created in various layers, as was customary at that time. Sometimes a drawing was made (with chalk or paint) on top of a coloured undercoat (grey, pink), and was then more or less filled in, in stages. It does seem that Hals generally applied his underpainting very loosely: he was a virtuoso from the beginning. And this applies, of course, particularly to his somewhat later, mature works. Hals displayed tremendous daring, great courage and virtuosity, and had a great capacity to pull back his hands from the canvas (or panel) as soon as the portrayed person was on it, alive and well. He didn't "paint them to death", as many of his contemporaries unfortunately did, in their great accuracy and diligence (whether requested by their clients or not). ‘Een onghemeyne [ongewone] manier van schilderen, die hem eyghen is, by nae alle [iedereen] over-treft’, (‘An unusual manner of painting, all his own, surpassing almost everyone,’) wrote his first biographer, Schrevelius, in the 17th century on Hals’ painting methods. For that matter, schematic painting was not Hals’ own idea (this approach already existed in 16th century Italy), and Hals was probably inspired by Flemish contemporaries (Rubens, Van Dyck) in his painting method.


As early as the 17th century, people were struck by the vitality of Frans Hals’ portraits. For example, Haarlem resident Theodorus Schrevelius noted that Hals’ works reflected ‘such power and life’ that the painter ‘seems to challenge nature with his brush’. And centuries later Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo: ‘What a joy it is to see a Frans Hals, how different it is from the paintings – so many of them – where everything is carefully smoothed out in the same manner.’ Van Gogh’s observation hits the nail on the head: Frans Hals chose not to give a smooth finish to his painting, as most of his contemporaries did, but tried to keep it ‘alive’. Since life can be recognized by movement, he made sure that the person viewing his work would have the impression that the person on the portrait is in motion. When you see someone in motion, you do not see that person totally in focus: you cannot completely grasp who or what is moving; you see smears, lines, spots, lines, spots, large patches of colour and hardly any details. This is what we see in Hals’ portraits - especially the later ones, when he was in top form. This approach enabled Hals to come up with a solution for an age-old problem in art history: how do you make a true-to-life portrait on a flat surface? With smooth painting, of course, but then as extreme as possible (Gerard Dou and the Leiden school). Another solution is the trompe l’oeil painting technique. But Hals’ choice does have something very special. He was far ahead of his time with this approach: it wasn't until the 19th century that he had true followers, particularly among the Impressionists. They came to the Frans Hals Museum (at that time still established in the Town Hall on the Grote Markt) and other museums in Haarlem in order to study spectacular pieces such as ‘The Regentesses of the Old Men's Alms House´ and the civic guard paintings. And to be inspired by them.


It is often all too easily suggested that many painters are considered students of Hals. But further study has since shown that there are quite a few questions in that area. In his ‘De Groote Schouburgh’ (1718-21), Arnold Houbraken mentions Adriaen Brouwer, Adriaen van Ostade and Dirck van Delen as students. Frans’ brother Dirck and his own sons were also probably studying under him, and/or worked with him in his studio. Then we also have Vincent Laurensz van der Vinne (according to his son, he was a Hals student) and Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten (according to a notarised document; he also became a son-in-law of Hals). The Haarlem portrait painter Johannes Verspronck (one of the ten or so competing portraitists in Haarlem at the time) also possibly studied for some time with Hals. In terms of style, the closest to Hals’ work is the handful of paintings that are ascribed to Judith Leyster (which she also often signed). So she also ‘qualifies’ as a possible student, just like her husband, the painter Jan Miense Molenaer. There were probably more, but many painters at that time fell into oblivion. Two centuries after his death, Hals received a number of ‘posthumous students’. Claude Monet, Charles Daubigny, Max Liebermann, James Whistler, Gustave Courbet, and in the Netherlands, Jacobus van Looy and Isaac Israëls are some of the Impressionists and realists who have delved deeply into the work of Hals - by making study copies of his work and further building on him. Many of them travelled to the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem (since 1913 on the Groot Heiligland, and before that in the Town Hall), where several of his most important works were (and are) kept. Hals’ works have also found their way to countless other cities all over the world and in museum collections. From the late 19th century, they were collected everywhere: from Antwerp to Toronto, and from London to New York. Almost every important art museum with a large old art collection has a Hals. Hals has become one of the classics of Dutch painting history.


The two most important publications about Hals were written by the American art historian Seymour Slive: Frans Hals, 3 dln (oeuvre catalogue), New York / London 1970-1974; Frans Hals (exhibition catalogue Washington/London/Haarlem, 1989. Claus Grimm published his ‘Frans Hals. Das Gesamtwerk’ in 1989 (Stuttgart/Zürich; also translated into Dutch). Published in the Dutch language in 1988: N. Middelkoop and A. van Grevenstein, Frans Hals. ‘Leven, werk, restauratie’ (Life, work and restorations) (Haarlem Amsterdam 1988). This work gives an account of restorations of the riflemen’s pieces, but it also gives a picture of Hals’ life and work. A new book about Hals was recently published: ‘Frans Hals in het Frans Hals Museum’, by Antoon Erftemeijer; Amsterdam/Gent 2004 (in Dutch, English and French), in which various chapters are devoted to Hals’ life, his predecessors, portrait painting in the Golden Age, Hals’ painting technique and other subjects. Many pictures with close-ups in this book show Hals’ works in great detail. Christopher Atkins recently wrote an article in English on Hals’ virtuoso painting style (‘Frans Hals’s Virtuoso Brushwork’, Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 2003, Zwolle 2004, p. 281-309).

the lute player by Frans Hals    Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart (1623) by Frans Hals