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Repainting artworks

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Who is Frans Hals?

Look at a portrait created by Hals’ hand and you see life in motion. While his contemporaries’ portraits often seem stiff, Hals managed to catch someone’s soul, someone’s true face, with brisk, vibrant brushstrokes. An innovative style in which he is still influential centuries later.

With his seemingly nonchalant way of painting, Frans Hals did not make things easy for himself, as is sometimes believed, but difficult in fact. His loose, bold brushstrokes had to be accurate, which fortunately they were, and he rarely painted over anything. In his time, people were just as enthusiastic about Hals’ unique, virtuoso style as we are today.

In 1813, English painter James Northcote stated, ‘In terms of character representation, he was certainly the greatest painter who ever lived.’

What is also striking, in particular, is how the most diverse characters and emotions come so convincingly out of the paintwork and to the fore in Hals’ work. Take for example the newly restored Regentessen van het Oudemannenhuis (‘The Regentesses of the Old Men’s Almshouse’). When the English painter James Whistler saw this masterpiece in Haarlem in 1902, he said, “Oh, I have to touch it – simply because I like it,” after which he ran his fingers affectionately over the face of one of the old women.

About 200 years after Hals’ death, painters of the Impressionism movement became enormously fascinated by the rough, suggestive brushstrokes of the Haarlem native. Manet, Monet and Courbet came here to admire his paintings. Vincent van Gogh wrote, ‘What a joy it is to see a Frans Hals like that – how very different it is from the paintings […] where everything has been carefully smoothed out in the same way.’ Here you can read more about this renewed interest in Hals.

Hals became a hero and an example to the Impressionists. If you observe his paintings in real life and see the almost dancing, sweeping paint up close, it quickly becomes clear why. And just as with all truly great artists, his influence is endless. New artists continuously come to the Frans Hals Museum to discover what the powerful works of ‘the master of loose brushwork’ can mean for contemporary art.

Publications

Seymour Slive, Pieter Biesboer and others, Frans Hals (1990)

Antoon Erftemeijer, Frans Hals in het Frans Hals Museum (‘Frans Hals in the Frans Hals Museum’; 2004)

Anna Tummers, Christopher Atkins and others Frans Hals. Oog in oog met Rembrandt, Rubens en Titiaan (‘Frans Hals. Eye to eye with Rembrandt, Rubens and Titiaan’; 2013)

Antoon Erftemeijer, Het fenomeen Frans Hals (‘Frans Hals the phenomenon’; 2014)

Claus Grimm, Frans Hals (2014)

Seymour Slive, Frans Hals (2014)

Explore Frans Hals' timeline

Frans Hals

The master of loose brushwork

Frans Hals was born circa. 1582 in Antwerp, but grew up as a Haarlem native. His parents fled to the north to escape Spanish domination, and he lived in Haarlem for the rest of his life.

It is probable that Hals trained as an artist under Karel van Mander, who is also represented at the Frans Hals Museum. In 1610, he became a member of the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke. His innovative, informal style was admired and provided him with numerous portrait commissions.

In 1616 Hals completed his first large group portrait: The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company. Between then and 1639, he received four more commissions for civic guard portraits from the Haarlem militia. All are now world-famous and hang in the Frans Hals Museum.

Frans Hals was able to live well thanks to his work, although he did also regularly fall into debt. As an elderly person he had to save himself with the ‘annual allowance’ he received from the city.

Hals was married twice – his first wife died young in childbirth – and had 11 children in total. He lived to what was a rather old age for that time: he was about 84 when he died in 1666.

Hals continued to paint almost to the end. For example, he was past 80 when he painted the two sublime group portraits of the regents and regentesses of the Old Man’s Almshouse, which now happens to be the Hof location of the Frans Hals Museum.

In total, about 200 paintings by Frans Hals have survived the centuries. Out of all the museums in the Netherlands, the Frans Hals Museum has the most works by Hals. Twelve of the paintings are from its own collection and there are always (long-term) loans to see.

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