Bio: Frans Hals

Special thanks to the Microsoft Corporation for permission to use following biographical information from Microsoft® Encarta '97:

Frans Hals was a Dutch painter- one of the greatest masters of the art of portraiture, much admired for his brilliant lighting effects and the freedom of his brushwork.

Hals was born in Antwerp, Belgium, and probably trained by the Dutch painter Karel van Mander. He spent all of his adult life in Haarlem, the Netherlands, finding patronage with the wealthy middle-class merchants and burghers of his time. Throughout his life he received important commissions for group portraits of the officers and corporations of Haarlem; toward the end of his life he was granted a small pension by the city. He died September 1, 1666, in what is now the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem.

In all of his portraits Hals achieved an air of complete spontaneity; his subjects give the impression of being caught in a fleeting, but characteristic, pose and expression. The gay mood of the early work The Laughing Cavalier (1624, Wallace Collection, London), the subject's apparently momentary smile and stance, demonstrate Hals's ability to attain the immediacy of a sketch by the use of rapid, spontaneous brushstrokes. The broad brushstroke is characteristic of his work and adds a robust and lively quality to his portraits, particularly to the genre or character pieces he painted from 1620 to 1640. One of the most famous, the portrait of the gypsy tavern girl La bohémienne (1630, Musée du Louvre, Paris) owes its gaiety and brightness to two other painting techniques Hals employed: fully illuminating the figures with direct light, and blending the brilliant colors directly on the canvas.

Although his portraits appear spontaneous and uncalculated, Hals was an expert technician, and his studies are always skillfully composed. His talent is particularly evident in his nine group portraits of the burgher guards and corporations of Haarlem, all of which are now in the Frans Hals Museum. In these group portraits Hals demonstrates his ability to catch each man in a characteristic pose, thus giving the group an air of informality and naturalness; each individual is clearly portrayed, yet all are linked in a well-balanced pattern in line and color. As his style matured, Hals replaced the bright colors of his earliest canvases with a more monochromatic color treatment. In his last group portrait, Regentesses of the Old Men's Almshouse (1664, Frans Hals Museum), he limited his palette to somber shades of black and gray, relying on broader and more vigorous brushstrokes to accentuate light and color value. This work is considered his masterpiece, because the style lends a greater austerity and depth to the study, while simultaneously it fuses the group into a natural and harmonious pattern. In this group portrait, Hals achieves a new dignity and feeling for the character of the subjects that is absent from his earlier works, yet retains a spontaneous effect by the dexterity and facility of his brushwork.

Home Page Online Since 1996
Back to Hals Alphabetical
Featured Artists