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Frans Hals


After Frans Hals. Portrait of the Artist, about 1650. Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, The Clowes Collection.

Also known as
Frans Hals, I, Frans Hals, (I)
Date of birth
Date of death

Celebrated as one of the foremost portrait painters of the nascent Dutch Republic, and second only to Rembrandt van Rijn in fame, Frans Hals distinguished himself with his lively depictions of wealthy burghers and militia companies.

Hals moved to Haarlem at a young age and remained there for his entire career, entrenching himself in the cultural fabric of the city. His body of work, which encompasses approximately 200 group and individual portraits and a handful of genre scenes, shows a distinctive style that was unimitated by his students or subsequent generations. Hals enlivened his portraits using a remarkably free application of painted detail that suggests the spontaneity of real life—an approach that was termed the “master’s touch” by an early biographer. While the artist’s deep understanding of color and materiality resulted in dazzling depictions of cloth and ornament, his superb palette is often overlooked due to the sober dress of the period. However, the great colorist Vincent van Gogh noticed his skill and asserted that the artist “must have had 27 blacks” from which to choose.

Hals painted Portrait of a Lady at the height of his fame in the late 1620s. The three-quarter–length seated pose had a long history in Northern Europe, as demonstrated in a portrait by Anthonis Mor from 60 years earlier, but Hals subtly animates his sitter by parting her lips slightly and arranging her hands asymmetrically. His feel for textiles is exemplified by the almost sharp stiffness of the woman’s lace cuffs and mill ruff. Bold slashes of gray paint across the surface of her bodice—the “master’s touch”—complete the illusion of a living body in the real world.

A proto-modernist in his style, Hals would serve as an important touch point for such diverse artists as Édouard Manet, Vincent van Gogh, John Singer Sargent and Robert Henri.

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