Frans Hals

Dates1582/1583 - 1666

Before Frans Hals, few portrait painters had convincingly captured people in the spontaneous act of living. Hals trained in Haarlem with Flemish painter Karel van Mander and was admitted to the painter's guild there in 1610. Except for a trip to Antwerp in 1616, Hals never left Holland. Traditionally, portraits had been posed and were prized for restraint, but Hals conveyed the sense of capturing his subjects in the fleeting moment. For earlier painters, drawing was primary; with Hals, paint dominates. No preliminary sketches exist; he probably worked on the canvas using the paint's viscosity and his brushstrokes' shapes to create texture and describe surfaces. Even his rare religious paintings were approached like portraiture.

Through the 1620s Hals's pictures were joyous in mood, but during the 1630s his style became increasingly sober. The sympathy and insight of his late work could equal Rembrandt van Rijn's. Hals's workshop was extremely successful, but his finances were a disaster. He died destitute and may have been an alcoholic. Unlike other masters who deliberately developed styles that assistants could copy, Hals's technique could not be followed by an average painter. His style anticipated Impressionism, and appreciation of his work grew in the 1800s, fueled by artists such as Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet.