Frans Hals was another artist that emerged during the Golden Age of Dutch painting. He was considered as the second-best painter next to Rembrandt, who revolutionized the Dutch printmaking industry. Hals did introduce the use of loose brush strokes as his painting technique into Dutch art, though so this major contribution was enough to put him on the pedestal during his career stint.
Similar to Rembrandt, Hals was also a major contractor for portrait-related commissions. He was a genre and portrait painter known for painting bureaucrat and monarch figures such as Jacob Pietersz Olycan, Paulus van Beresteyn, Joseph Coymans, and Rene des Cartes, Isaac Massa, among many others.
During his middle years, Frans Hals was greatly admired by Parisian artists and art patrons. He became much more in-demand outside of Netherlands for this kind of recognition. His colorful shading and palette of his bourgeois subjects combined with bolder brushwork somehow established the groundwork for Impressionist and Realist painting that began centuries later.
Frans Hals was born in Antwerp, territory of the Spanish Netherlands, around 1580. His family moved to Haarlem to avoid the catastrophe that would come from the aggressive advancements of the Spanish invaders in Antwerp in 1584. Hals has since remained in Haarlem, where he would establish a solid career.
At a young age, he took up training sessions under Karel van Mander, a Flemish expatriate. Mander was a Mannerist painter; however, he only had little influence on the mature works of Hals for some reason. In 1610, Hals joined the company of Haarlem Guild of St. Luke to begin an independent career as a painter.
His membership with the said guild also helped him gain a significant number of connections. His earliest job sponsored by the city council, which was to restore the art works in the city hall. One of his major assignments was to work on Schilderboeck, a large collection of art creations. This art collection features a wide repository of Dutch arts that was published in the city around 1604.
Schilderboeck, or Painter’s Book, entails the works of Jan Mostaert, Geertgen tot Sint Jans and Jan van Scorel. Needless to say, Hals was responsible for restoring the works of these artists that were feature on the collection.
During the early 1570’s, Netherlands was undergoing a drastic change in its religious affairs. In fact, there was a time within the decade that Catholics were forced to pledge allegiance to Willem the Silent under the Satisfactie van Haarlem treatise. This event was followed by the confiscation of Catholic religious art works but the order had been overturned in 1578, allowing the city council to collect as many of those confiscated religious paintings and put it under their custody.
However, Catholic fathers also possessed several of those paintings that they had the power over the city council in regard to deciding which paintings would be displayed in the city hall. Those art works that had been deemed too Catholic were traded to Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen. The dispersion of the religious art in Netherlands had a great impact on Hals decision of focusing on doing portraiture rather than executing religious-themed paintings.
In 1611, he worked for Jacobus Zaffius as a portraitist whose portrait was his known earliest professional work. But his breakthrough work took place in 1616, when he executed The Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Militia Company. This work is a large group portrait of servicemen such as Capt. Jacob Laurensz, Lt. Hugo Mattheusz Steyn, Ensign Boudewijn van Offenberg, Capt. Nicolaes Woutersz van der Meer, and so on. He began working on during his thirties for St. George militia company of Haarlem but it is now located at the premier Frans Hals Museum.
Throughout Hals’ career, he would paint portraits of various wealthy men and women. Some of his notable clients were Isaac Massa and Pieter van den Broecke, for whom he painting three portraits plus a painting of the gentlemen’s respective wife.
As a realist painter, his paintings were made of lively colors and solid brush strokes to perfectly put the necessary details from the facial expression, gesture, perceived movement and environment of the characters. He also accepted projects that required him to paint on life-size canvases, and most of his paintings depicted servicemen in meetings or banquets, council officers like mayors, wealthy merchants, scenes in a tavern and daily routines.
Frans Hals approach was to paint the figures in daylight compared to the contrast of light and dark paintings of Rembrandt. Hals display of great coloring; shade, tone and light effects, demonstrated his mastery of his own craft. No wonder he was awarded with several commissions, most of which were made for wedding portraits of bourgeois couples such as the Olycans, van Beresteyn, and Coymans.
Aside from being adept at painting profiles, Hals was also capable of painting full-length portraits. Few examples are the portrait of Willem van Heythuyzen which he painted standing up while leaning on his sword. And if he could paint group portraits, there is no reason why he wouldn’t paint double portraits and he did so from 1620 to 1640. He was the go-to double portrait painter of would-be married and already married couples.
Frans Hals also had a changing mind about his painting style. He was first known for his vivid colors and then changed this into a darker one later on, particularly during the treatise of 1577. His style was directly affected by the cultural and social changes in the city more than choosing to do it based on personal choice.
In his advanced years, his brush strokes became noticeably looser as he prioritized impression over giving fine detail on his figures. A detailed painting would typically radiate liveliness but portraits with freer brush strokes would give emphasis on the austereness of the character. Thus, he began to lean towards using black and white colors mostly. However, it is worth mentioning that around the time, Hals was faced with financial difficulties which could have led him to buy cheaper paint colors (black and white).
When it comes to painting technique, Frans Hals was admired for his ability to spot the flaw and hide it with soft brush strokes, giving a clearer picture of the character’s expressions. This technique also helped him add a deeper depth in his paintings as he was able to improve his works although he wasn’t a fan of under drawing technique.
To create layers of paint, he would use chalk or any other coloring material to top a dark or light area particularly the adornments of the figures. He knew when to stop and check out if there was something wrong in what he was doing unlike his some cotemporaries who would paint until they drop from exhaustion.
It was during the early 17th century when Frans Hals’s works had been taken notice by the people. One example was Theodorus Schrevelius who was struck by the power and vitality of the painter’s works. Hals didn’t mind having a smooth finish in his paintings but rather he presented a realistic view on how his figures should have spots, smears or lines somewhere on their body parts, dress, surroundings, etc.
In 1610, not only did Hals begin a lucrative career in portraiture but he also began a lifetime partnership with Anneke Harmensdochter. The couple had a civil marriage since Hals wasn’t baptized Catholic. However, not too long after giving birth to Harmen, their third child, Anneke died in 1615.
In 1617, Hals found another love interest in Lysbeth Reyniers and they exchanged marital vows in Spaarndam, a small town outside of Haarlem. The couple had eight children, including Hals’ child with his first wife.
Frans Hals never left Harleem for a bigger city, or for a place where there’s a high concentration of potential clients. He preferred his clients to be coming for him instead of traveling to and fro outside of Harleem. Therefore, his clients would come over to his studio, sit and model for him as he paints their portraits. Aside from painting, Hals was also a skilled art trader, art tax accountant and an art restorer.
Unfortunately, likewise to Rembrandt, Hals also encountered financial troubles due to his debt with a bakery owner in 1652. He was forced to sell some of his belongings such as bolsters, mattresses, five paintings and a table. Hals became bankrupt that he needed the financial support of the municipality, which fortunately responded to his situation well by giving him 200 florins.
During his advanced years, he took part in the country’s efforts to defend its citizens against its enemies during the Eighty Years’ War. He joined the military guild, and took it as an inspiration to paint a group portrait St. Joris Company in 1639, which he included his self-portrait in the painting.
In 1666, Frans Hals died and was buried in St. Bavo Church, Haarlem. He lived through pension from the government, which implies that he had been a significant part of society.