Hals, Frans

Hals, Frans fräns häls [key], 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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