Who Was Frans Hals the Elder?
Fran Hals the Elder (1582-1666), was a Flemish born painter, normally of portraits, who lived and worked in Haarlem. He settled in Holland and became the greatest portrait-painter (after Rembrandt) of the Dutch school. He had a remarkable ability to give his subjects a happy or lively expression; the best-known example is The Laughing Cavalier (he is not actually laughing but about to laugh, a much more subtle expression). Hals painted only portraits.
What was he known for? He is known for his loose painterly brushwork, and helping introduce a lively style of painting to Dutch art. Hals played an important role in the evolution of 17th-century group portraiture.
Hals portraits, mainly of wealthy citizens, like Pieter van den Broecke and Isaac Massa, whom he painted three times. He also painted large group portraits, many of which showed civil guards. He was a Baroque painter who practiced an intimate realism with a radically free approach. His pictures illustrate the various strata of society; banquets or meetings of officers, sharpshooters, guildsmen, admirals, generals, burgomasters, merchants, lawyers, and clerks, itinerant players and singers, gentlefolk, fishwives and tavern heroes.
In group portraits, such as the Archers of St. Hadrian, Hals captures each character in a different manner. The faces are not idealized and are clearly distinguishable, with their personalities revealed in a variety of poses and facial expressions.
He studied under the painter and historian Karel van Mander (Hals owned some paintings by van Mander that were amongst the items sold to pay his bakery debt in 1652). He soon improved upon the practice of the time, as exemplified by Jan van Scorel and Antonio Moro, and gradually emancipated himself from traditional portrait conventions.
Hals 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.
The only record of his work in the first decade of his independent activity is an engraving by Jan van de Velde copied from lost portrait of The Minister Johannes Bogardus. Early works by Hals, such as Two Boys Playing and Singing and a Banquet of the Officers of the St Joris Doele or Arquebusiers of St George (1616), show him as a careful draughtsman capable of great finish, yet spirited withal. The flesh he painted is pastose and burnished, less clear than it subsequently became. Later, he became more effective, displayed more freedom of hand, and a greater command of effect.