Frans Hals

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Hals, Frans

Hals, Frans (fräns häls), c.1580–1666, Dutch painter of portraits and genre scenes, b. Antwerp. Hals spent most of his life in Haarlem, where he studied with Karel van Mander and became (1610) a member of the city's painters' guild. Although his reputation was established early, much of his long life was passed in poverty. Hals's pictures of scenes from everyday life were painted during the first half of his career, in a freer style than his formal portraits.

During the 1620s and 1630s, Hals was commissioned to paint large group portraits of various companies of the civic guards in full regalia. Some of these “corporation pictures” are among his finest works. Each individual, and the group as a whole, is portrayed with remarkable vivacity and informality. Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Militia (1616; Haarlem) is an imposing early work of this type.

In his later work Hals developed a cool palette, alternating blacks and grays with brilliant and sparkling color. The master reached the height of his renown in the 1630s. He painted, in these years, several groups and a number of important single portraits (e.g., Lucas de Clercq; Rijksmus.). His possessions were seized for debt in 1652, and difficult years followed. Four years before his death he was granted a pension by the town. At the age of 84 he painted two masterpieces, The Governors of the Almshouse and Lady Regents of the Almshouse (both: Haarlem). These group portraits have the same brilliant lighting and cool clarity as his gayer canvases.

Hals employed Caravaggesque lighting to capture momentary effects and give them authentic life. He worked rapidly, detailing his subjects with the utmost frankness and economy of means. His work is best seen in the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem. His notable paintings include Archers of St. George (three paintings), Archers of St. Adrian (two paintings), and Governors of St. Elizabeth Hospital (all: Haarlem); The Rael and Blaeuw Company, Married Couple, and The Merry Drinker (all: Rijksmus.); Laughing Cavalier (1624; Wallace Coll., London); Malle Bobbe and The Smoker (both: Metropolitan Mus.). About one third of his 250 extant works are in American collections; New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, with 11 confirmed paintings, has the most important American collection. Hals's work was not highly valued until the 19th cent.

Five of Hals's sons became painters. The foremost was Frans Hals, c.1618–c.1669, a skillful painter of still life and rustic scenes. Dirk Hals, c.1591–1656, brother of the elder Frans Hals, imitated his style but lacked his genius. He specialized in festivals and drinking scenes, his Merry Party (National Gall., London) being characteristic.


See catalog of the elder Hals's work by N. S. Trivas (2d ed. 1949); studies by P. Descargues (tr. 1968) and S. Slive (3 vol., 1970–74); G. Van der Groot, ed. Frans Hals, His Life, His Paintings (1979); W. Liedke, Frans Hals: Style and Substance (museum catalog, 2011); C. D. M. Atkins, The Signature Style of Frans Hals (2012).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hals, Frans


Born circa 1581–85 in Antwerp; died Aug. 26, 1666, in Haarlem. Dutch painter.

Hals’ paintings are noted for an intense interest in depicting people from various strata of Dutch society. His art reflects the spiritual uplifting experienced by the Dutch people as a result of the wars for their country’s independence. Using loose spirited brushstrokes, Hals greatly broadened the range of depicting human emotion and was able to record the character of his subjects vividly.

Hals was the son of a Flemish weaver. From earliest childhood he lived in Haarlem. He studied with K. van Mander from 1600 to 1603 and joined the artists’ guild in 1610. In 1616 he visited Antwerp. His early style, as seen in the Banquet of Officers of the Civic Guard of St. George (1616), reveals a passion for warm colors and clear modeling of form through the use of heavy brushstrokes. (All the paintings mentioned in this article, except as otherwise noted, are housed at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem.)

In the 1620’s Hals painted portraits and genre scenes, as well as religious compositions, for example, St. Luke and St. Matthew (both c. 1623–25; Museum of Western and Oriental Art, Odessa). In his portraits of the 1620’s and 1630’s Hals created a virtual gallery of Dutch types, painting portraits of members of various social strata, from the bourgeoisie (W. van Heythuyzen, c. 1625–36, State Museum, Vaduz) to the lower classes (Malle Babbe, c. 1630, Picture Gallery, Berlin-Dahlem; Gypsy Girl, c. 1630, Louvre, Paris; The Mulatto, c. 1630, Museum of Fine Arts, Leipzig). To Hals the lower classes were the embodiment of the inexhaustible energy of human life.

During the same period, Hals reformed the group portrait, breaking with conventional systems of composition by introducing certain realistic elements that ensured a personal link between the painting and its viewer. His reforms are evident in Banquet of Officers of the Civic Guard of St. Adrian (c. 1623–27), Banquet of Officers of the Civic Guard of St. George (1627), Officers of the Civic Guard of St. Adrian (1633), and Officers of the Civic Guard of St. George (1639).

Hals’ portraiture of the 1640’s is marked by deeper psychological characterization, as seen in Regents of the Company of St. Elizabeth (1641), Portrait of a Young Man (c. 1642–50, Hermitage, Leningrad), and Jasper Schade van Westrum (c. 1645, National Gallery, Prague). Silvery grays predominate in Hals’ palette during this period.

Hals’ later works are executed in very loose strokes and with a limited palette based on contrasts of black and white. Examples are Man Dressed in Black (c. 1650–52, Hermitage, Leningrad) and W. Croes (c. 1660, Old Pinakothek, Munich). Some of Hals’ late works express a deep pessimism, for example. Governors of the Old Men’s Home at Haarlem and Lady-Governors of the Old Men’s Home at Haarlem (both 1664).

In old age Hals no longer received commissions for his work and became impoverished, dying in a Haarlem poorhouse. Hals had numerous pupils. Notable 17th-century Dutch masters influenced by Hals include A. Brouwer, the brothers A. van Ostade and I. van Ostade, and J. Steen.


Senenko, M. S. Frans Khal’s. Moscow, 1965.
[Linnik, I.] Frans Khal’s. [Leningrad, 1967.]
Lazarev, V. N. Frans Gal’s. In Starye evropeiskie mustera. Moscow, 1974. Pages 119–55.
Descargues, P. Hals. Geneva, 1968.
Grimm, C. Frans Hals. Berlin, 1972.
Slive, S. Frans Hals, vols. 1–3. London, 1970–74.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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