Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A BRILLIANT PORTRAITIST




Copy after Frans Hals of a Self-Portrait
Source Metropolitan Museum of Art
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Frans Hals is the most famous Haarlem painter of all time and is well-known all over the world. But Frans Hals was actually Belgian. He was born in Antwerp around 1582 and moved to Haarlem with his parents when he was little. The Hals family was a real painter's family. Frans' brother Dirck was a painter. And five of Frans' twelve children became painters as well. But Frans was the best. Often, you can even see his brushstrokes. That was extraordinary in these days, when paintings usually had a flat finish. The brushstrokes bring life to his paintings.
(from franshalsmuseum.collectionconnection.nl)
In the field of group portraiture his work is equalled only by that of Rembrandt. Hals's portraits, both individual and group, have an immediacy and brilliance that bring his sitters to life in a way previously unknown in the Netherlands. This effect, achieved by strong Baroque designs and the innovative use of loose brushstrokes to depict light on form, was not to the taste of critics in the 18th century and the early 19th, when his work was characterized as lazy and unfinished. However, with the rise of Realism and, later, Impressionism, Hals was hailed as a modern painter before his time. Since then his works have always been popular.
None of Hals's followers was able to reproduce the essence of his style. His apparently unrestrained brushstroke always succeeded in defining form. This was not a mere trick or a stylish device that could be imitated. It responded to a basic mode of observation. His fascinating variety of angular strokes and hatching, which give liveliness to the picture surface while they differentiate between the optical effects of different textures, foreshadowed the impressionist way of representing light falling on an object. His ability to communicate a moment of intense living has seldom been equaled.
Strangely, no drawing or print by Hals is known. There is reason to believe that some of his small-scale portraits were intended as models for engravers. There are only two self-portraits of Hals, the first as a member of the St. George militia company, in the group portrait Officers of the Guild of Archers of St. George (probably 1639), the second a small bust-length portrait (ca. 1650), of which a number of copies exist.
(Copyright © 2009 Answers Corporation)


Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard, 1616
Oil on canvas, 68 7/8 x 127 1/2 inches (175 x 324 cm)
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Little is known of his early life except that he began his studies with Karel Van Mander and Cornelis Cornelissen. What we know of his family life is not to his credit. In the parish register of 1611 is recorded the birth of a son to Frans Hals and five years later he is on the public records for abusing his wife, who died shortly afterward. He married again within a year and the second wife bore him many children and survived him ten years. Five of his seven sons became painters.
Frans Hals drank too much and mixed too freely with the kind of disreputable people he loved to paint, but he never became so degraded that his hand lost its cunning, or his eye its keen vision for that which he wished to portray. In 1644, he was made a director of the Guild of St. Lucas, an institution for the protection of arts and crafts in Haarlem, but from that time onward he sank in popular esteem, deservedly. He fell into debt, then into pauperism, and when he died, about the age of 86, he was buried at public expense.
It was in the year 1616 that Hals first became known as a master of his art by the painting of the St. Jovis Shooting Company, one of the clubs composed of volunteers banded together for the defence of the town should occasion arise. Such guilds were common throughout Holland, and they became a favourite subject with Hals, as with other painters of the time, who vied with one another in portraiture of the different members. These groups were hung upon the walls of the chambers where meetings were held for social purposes in times of peace. The men of highest rank are always given the most conspicuous places in the pictures. The flag is generally the one bit of gorgeous colour in the scene; but Frans Hals seized the opportunity to show his wonderful skill in detail while painting the cuffs and ruffs worn by these grandees. In all his work there is an impression of strength rather than of beauty; it is the charm of expressiveness he is aiming at, rather than the charm of grace and colour to which the Italian school was devoted. He differed from that school, also, in his choice of subjects, for he was distinctly and almost entirely a portrait painter, and within his own limited range he is unsurpassed.
(from historyofholland.com)
The earliest extant picture is the fragment of a portrait Jacobus Zaffius (Hals Museum, Haarlem, 1611), and upon the basis of stylistic evidence one or two paintings can be dated a year or so earlier. Nothing he did before 1616 suggested that he would shatter well-established traditions with his life-size group portrait The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company (Hals Museum) painted during that year. There is no precedent in either his own work or that of his predecessors for the vigorous composition and characterization of this picture, which has become a symbol of the strength and healthy optimism of the men who established the new Dutch Republic. It demonstrates to the full his remarkable ability -- his greatest gift as a portraitist -- to capture a sense of fleeting movement and expression and thereby convey a compelling feeling of vivacity.
((5 Nov 1995, Nicolas Pioch at Web Museum, Paris)


Jacobus Zaffius, 1611
Oil on canvas, 21 3/8 x 16 1/4 inches (54.5 x 41.5 cm)
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Banquet of the Officers of the St George Civic Guard Company, 1627
Oil on canvas, 70 3/8 x 101 3/8 inches (179 x 257.5 cm)
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Banquet of the Officers of the St George Civic Guard Company, 1627
Oil on canvas, 70 3/8 x 101 3/8 inches (179 x 257.5 cm)
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Officers and Sergeants of the St George Civic Guard Company, 1639
Oil on canvas, 85 3/4 x 165 5/8 inches (218 x 421 cm)
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


"The thing about Frans Hals is that his paintings have so much life to them; and it’s hard to explain what Hals was able to accomplish that others had not. I’ve been reading about the history of group portraits and it can easily get pedantic with discussion of individualism verses group dynamics and group identity. It’s simplest, at least for me, to equate it to the art of photography, something we all know a little about -- at least in its most rudimentary form.
Most group portraits often come off as posed, stilted – you know what I’m talking about – that moment when the photographer says “cheese” and everyone smiles, holding their breath, repressing every tendency to be natural and consciously projecting that forced gaze of what they want people to see – “hold it . . . “hold it . . . . Cheeeeeese--” Click.
Hals’ paintings have none of that. The impression you get from many of his works is altogether incognizance. Sure, the group has been gathered for the portrait. Sure, they are all dressed in their respective garb. Everyone knows why the photographer is there and what’s going to happen, but it’s not the moment of “Cheese”. As the photographer is getting thier flash ready, the tripod adjusted and angled just right to include everyone, someone wonders aloud if one in group is missing, two others are off in conversation about where they’re going later, still another is glancing back to see if he’s blocking the view of anyone. It’s thirty seconds before that moment and everyone’s guard is down in the most indicative -- wholly unconscious moment of themselves -- right before they all have to breath deep, repress that, and become every bit self-conscious of thier look towards posterity.
Just look at these paintings and think about it. Hals had never seen a photograph in his life and the idea of a camera was totally foreign to him, but the whole idea of capturing a moment -- a REAL moment -- that is the most telling of his subjects (given the difficulty of a group portrait) came strictly out of his own head. Hals understood something about a frozen image that most of us don’t -- even though we’ve lived with photography all our lives.
Now that is the problem facing photography; but think what you have to do as a painter to capture this and make it look natural. It’s one thing to conceptually understand it. It’s quite another to be able to pull it off – and pull it off without having a photograph in front of you to paint from. You don't get a feeling that these people had to pose for hours -- THAT, my friend, is the magic of Frans Hals."
(By Natasha Wallace at jssgallery.org)
From 1616 onwards there is no shortage of dated or documented works and his artistic development is clear. He was at the height of his popularity in the 1620s and 1630s. During these decades he made five large group portraits of civil guards; one is in the Rijksmuseum and the others are in the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, the only place where one can get a comprehensive view of his range and power.
In the 1630s his compositions became simpler and monochromatic effects took the place of the bright colors of the earlier paintings (Lucas de Clercq and Feyntje van Steenkiste, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1635). The group portrait of the Regents of the St Elizabeth Hospital (Hals Museum, 1641) sets the key for the sober restraint of the late period, when his pictures became darker and his brush-strokes more economical. The culmination of this phase -- indeed of his entire career -- are his group portraits of the Regents and the Regentesses of the Old Men's Alms House (Hals Museum, c. 1664), which rank among the most moving portraits ever painted. By this time Hals was using in his commissioned portraits the bold brushwork and the alla prima technique which early in his career he reserved for genre pictures. No drawings by him are known and he presumably worked straight on to the canvas.
(5 Nov 1995, Nicolas Pioch at Web Museum, Paris)


Lucas de Clercq, 1635
Oil on canvas, 49 3/4 x 36 1/2 inches (126.5 x 93 cm)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Feyntje van Steenkiste, 1635
Oil on canvas, 48 3/8 x 36 1/2 inches (123 x 93 cm)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Regents of the St Elizabeth Hospital of Haarlem, 1641
Oil on canvas, 60 1/8 x 99 1/8 inches (153 x 252 cm)
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Regentesses of the Old Men's Almshouse, 1664
100.79 inch wide x 67.72 inch high
Orientation: Landscape
Copyright © 2002-2009 www.frans-hals.org


Portrait of a Woman, 1655-1660
Oil on canvas, 23 1/2 x 21 7/8 inches (60 x 55.6 cm)
City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


This tender and wistful portrait by Hals reveals his most profound insights into the human condition. It depicts a young woman in black dress and a deep, white collar tied with a yellow bow; her head gently tilted and her lips just parting to reveal a smile. The delicate play of light over her features and the restrained brushwork, unusual in his late works, add to the intimacy of the portrait and enhance the candour of the characterisation.
(© The Art Fund 2009)
Frans Hals is regarded as one of the most brilliant portraitists of all time. The composition and the vigorous air of optimism shown in both the painting and the characterization in the portraits have come through time to represent the confidence, energy and browing power of the new Dutch Republic. These portraits are emblematic of a people looking around them and at the future and liking the prospect very much.
How does Hals do it? Well, for one thing there is his ability to capture a fleeting moment. People in a Hals painting look as if they are in the midst of laughing or talking. The people Hals' portraits are caught as they take a sip of beer, in the midst of a difficult passage on the flute and in mid-sentence. This moment of fleeting time preserved gives Halsí work a tremendous vivacity and energy. Coupled with his extraordinary energetic and flashing brushwork (one feels that Hals has painted with lightening!) there is produced in the viewer a thrill of immediacy. The technique used in these works is a wet technique of oil painting known as alla prima, which is Italian for "at first." This refers to the fact that the paint is applied all in one layer, usually very quickly. There is no underpainting or overglazing in a true all prima work.
Frans Hals was recognized in his life and commissioned to do many portraits. They give us a picture not only of an artist of vision, but of a certain place and time. They tell us much about the people of the new Dutch Republic. However, Hals lost favor as a portraitist at the end of his life, was destitute and supported by the state.
(Benita Goldman at emich.edu)


Pieter Cornelisz van der Morsch, 1616
Man with a Herring
Oil on panel transferred to canvas
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The sitter for Man with a Herring, the painting's popular title, can be identified from a watercolor copy made by the Haarlem artist Vincent Jansz. van der Vinne and inscribed "Piero, Municipal Beadle of Leiden." This refers to Pieter Cornelisz. van der Morsch of Leiden, who, according to the inscription on the painting, was seventy-three years old in 1616. Van der Morsch was a member of the Leiden society of Rederijkers (rhetoricians). The group composed poetry, organized contests, and staged plays, usually of a humorous, slapstick character. Van der Morsch played the fool for the Leiden Rederijkers; Hals's portrait alludes to this role.
The herring in van der Morsch's hand refers to the Dutch vernacular phrase "to give a smoked herring," which means "to rebuke someone with sarcastic remarks:' Appropriately, in about 1618, van der Morsch chose as his epitaph "distributor of smoked herrings." The slogan Wie begeert (Who wants it?), at the upper left of the painting, wonders aloud who will be the next victim of van der Morsch's caustic wit. The meaning of the sham coat of arms is not clear, but the fact that it is held by a monkey suggests it is a joke, and its elements (the sea and a unicorn) may be a rebus for the sea unicorn, or narwhal. In Dutch, nar is the word for fool, and thus the insignia is probably a punning allusion to van der Morsch's role with the Rederijkers.
(© 2006 Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh)


Family Portrait in a Landscape, c.1620
Oil on canvas, 59 3/8 x 64 3/8 inches (151 x 163.6 cm)
Viscount Boyne, Bridgnorth
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Marriage Portrait of Isaac Massa en Beatrix van der Laen, c.1622
Oil on canvas, 55 x 65 1/2 inches (140 x 166.5 cm)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Even when individuals are portrayed solo, there is usually some reference in the portrait to the person's family or public life, even if only to show what the person's fashion tastes are. Often a single portrait is half of a double portrait of man and wife. One of the most beautiful portrayals of a couple is Frans Hals's portrait of the affectionate newlyweds Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen. Life has truly smiled on this attractive pair and together they are smiling back.
(Copyright Radio Netherlands Worldwide 2009)


The Laughing Cavalier, 1624
Oil on canvas, Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The best-known exhibit of the Wallace Collection is surely Hals's famous Laughing Cavalier. In reality he is not laughing at all. He is smiling in a rather self-satisfied, provocative and disdainful way. One itches to wipe that smile away. Yet it is irresistible, almost infectious. We occasionally meet people we don't like and with whom we have little in common, and yet are charmed by their smile, by how they present themselves to the world. The Cavalier is one of them.
(The Wallace Collection, London at guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009)
The Laughing Cavalier is one of the most famous portraits in the world. We still do not know his name, but the Latin inscription in the top right hand corner tells us that he was twenty-six years old when the portrait was painted. The title itself is not original but was coined between 1875 and 1888 and is, on reflection, misleading: the man is not a cavalier, nor is he really laughing.
If it were not for the upturned moustache, do you think he would appear to be smiling?
While we may not know the man’s identity, his portrait gives us ample opportunity to form an impression of his personality and circumstances.
The painting's low vantage point makes The Laughing Cavalier peer down on us with a confident, knowing gaze. In contrast to portraits made by many previous Dutch artists, Hals' painting style, as well as composition, manages to suggest liveliness and movement: the elbow of the sitter juts out and forms a diagonal with the dramatic hat. His opulently embroidered costume implies wealth, and its detail suggests that he might be dressed for marriage.
His sleeves are adorned with several symbols of love: cupid's arrows, flaming cornucopias, lovers’ knots and bees which sting with the pain of love. Can your pupils find them?
Do you think Hals has managed to capture a glimpse of the subject's personality and spirit? What kind of person might he be? How is he feeling or what might he be thinking of?
Look at the portrait from a distance, and then look at it more closely. Notice how the style appears quite precise from afar and then becomes much more ‘free’ and spontaneous when held close to you.
(From museumnetworkuk.org)


Portrait Of A Man, 1630
Oil on canvas, Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Portrait of a man, possibly Nicolaes Hasselaer,
Oil on canvas,c.1630-1635
31 1/4 x 26 1/8 inches (79.5 x 66.5 cm)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Portrait of a woman, possibly Sara Wolphaerts van Diemen
Oil on canvas, c.1630-1635
31 1/4 x 26 1/8 inches (79.5 x 66.5 cm)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Portrait of a Man, 1634
Oil on canvas, 32 3/8 x 27 1/2 inches (82.5 x 70 cm)
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Family Portrait, 1635
Oil on canvas, 44 3/8 x 36 3/4 inches (113 x 93.4 cm)
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center



Company of Captain Reinier Reael, known as the 'Meagre Company'
Oil on canvas, 1637, 82 1/4 x 168 7/8 inches (209 x 429 cm)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The Meagre Company [detail]
Oil on canvas, 1637, 81 1/2 x 168 1/4 inches (207.3 x 427.5 cm)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Portrait of a Man, 1640
Oil on canvas, 47 1/8 x 37 3/8 inches (120 x 95 cm)
Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Portrait of a Woman Holding a Fan, 1640
Oil on canvas, 31 3/8 x 23 1/8 inches (79.8 x 59 cm)
National Gallery, London
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Portrait of a Seated Woman (presumedly Maria Vernatti)
Oil on panel, 1648-1650, 13 3/4 x 11 3/8 inches (35 x 29 cm)
Aurora Art Fund, New York
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Portrait of a Man, 1650-1652
Oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 33 1/4 inches (115 x 84.5 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Isabella Coymans 1650-1652
Oil on canvas, 45 5/8 x 33 3/4 inches (116 x 86 cm)
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Stephanus Geraerdts, 1650-1652
Oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 34 1/4 inches (115 x 87 cm)
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Portrait of a Man, 1650-1652
Oil on canvas, 43 1/2 x 33 7/8 inches (110.5 x 86.3 cm)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Throughout his long and productive career, Frans Hals worked almost exclusively as a portraitist. He was exceptional in this respect, for most of his contemporaries still considered portraiture a lesser genre, not on a par with history painting. Even Anthony van Dyck and Diego Velazquez, two of the most important portraitists of the seventeenth century, were influenced by circumstances rather than by choice to specialize in the genre. Had they not worked as court painters to kings, they would certainly not have devoted so much of their time to portraiture.
In contrast, Hals was a portraitist by inclination. He showed no propensity to paint history pictures, and his few genre scenes, with their emphasis on physiognomy, expression, and gesture rather than on narrative situation, have a distinctly portraitlike quality. The men and women of Haarlem, the provincial Dutch town where Hals lived and worked, were all the subject matter he needed. They provided him with more than enough pictorial material to occupy him for a lifetime.
Hals's talent for portraiture involved more than his ability to reproduce the physical characteristics of his sitters. He was extraordinarily sensitive to the less tangible aspects of human appearance. He knew how to capture a fleeting expression, a flicker of the eye, a tilt of the head, or a characteristic gesture of the hand.
Typically, he painted his subjects in casual, informal poses, in this way fostering an illusion of spontaneity. His highly unorthodox technique contributed to the immediacy of his paintings. Unlike virtually every other artist of the period, Hals did not make preparatory drawings or sketches but worked directly on canvas or panel. He avoided the refined surface and polished finish favored by many of his contemporaries; instead, he applied the paint in bold, angular strokes and patches.
His rapid brushwork, when viewed from close-up, appears jumbled and chaotic. Only when viewed from a certain distance does it resolve itself into coherent shapes, surfaces, and textures. In his last years, his brushwork became increasingly free and impressionistic yet it never lost its almost magical descriptive power.
(© 1993 - By the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois)

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