Arts of Europe

Hals

Cornelius Guldewagen, Mayor of Haarlem, ca. 1660
Frans Hals (Netherlands, ca. 1581–1666)
Oil on oak panel
16 x 12 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Merle J. Trees 1953-1-1

During Frans Hals's long career, which spanned virtually the entire golden age of Dutch art, he invigorated painting with a new naturalism, in both the portraits that account for the majority of his surviving work and a smaller output of genre paintings. Known as the "portraitist of Haarlem," he acquired a fame that peaked in the 1630s with nine large group portraits—six of military groups and three of regents. Despite his renown, he was never financially successful and died deeply in debt.

This portrayal of the mayor or Haarlem shows Hals's distinctive brushwork—swift strokes suggest a cuff, a hand, and a glove, broadly brushed areas of light and dark create strong shapes, and deep shadow contrasts with fine tonal gradation to model the subject's face. Hals refrained from making preliminary sketches or drawings in order to convey the vitality of his sitters with fresh and direct painting.

Hals was virtually forgotten for almost two centuries after his death, until his rediscovery by the French impressionists, who admired the way he caught fleeting moments animated by light. This portrait began traveling soon after Krannert Art Museum opened in 1961. The committee for the centennial celebration of the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem selected it as one of 80 paintings from museum collections throughout the world for display in 1962.

Text by Helen Peterson and Robert B. Smith, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008

For an exploration of fashion in this painting, click here.



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