Friday, November 7, 2014

Hals, Frans

Jester with a Lute
oil on wood
71 x 62 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris, France

Frans Hals (c.1580-1666) was the first great artist of the 17th-century Dutch School and is regarded as one of the most brilliant of all portraitists. He is notable for his loose painterly brushwork, and he helped introduce this lively style of painting into Dutch art. Much later the dazzling virtuosity of his brushwork became an important precedent for the achievements of the 19th-century French artist, Manet. It is thought that he met Rubens who visited the city in 1624. The rapidity of Hals's technique and his incisiveness can be contrasted with the studied fluidity of Rubens's works. 

He was born into the family of a cloth-maker of Dutch origin in Antwerp, but worked for most of his life in Haarlem. The life of him was not eventful and is little known. He painted the wealthy of Haarlem on special occasions. His works before he became thirty are not known. His surviving work includes about 300 paintings, and the majority of these are portraits and group portraits. These are generally regarded as his masterpieces.

He was fond of daylight and silvery sheen, while Rembrandt used golden glow effects based upon artificial contrasts of low light in immeasurable gloom. Both men were painters of touch, but of touch on different keys - Rembrandt was the bass, Hals the treble. Hals seized, with rare intuition, a moment in the life of his subjects. What nature displayed in that moment he reproduced thoroughly in a delicate scale of color, and with mastery over every form of expression. He became so clever that exact tone, light and shade, and modeling were obtained with a few marked and fluid strokes of the brush.

He knew fame during his lifetime, but died in poverty. Despite his success, he experienced severe financial difficulties throughout his life. During his last years he was destitute and the municipal authorities of Haarlem awarded him a small annual stipend four years before his death. He was twice married, had at least ten children, and was constantly in financial trouble.