October 01, 2011

"Frans Hals in The Metropolitan Museum"

The Dutch Golden Age painter Frans Hals was born in 1580 (or maybe 1581) in Antwerp but spent most of his life in Haarlem where he died in 1666. Although sought after as a portrait painter at the onset of his career, his style fell out of fashion and he ended up destitute, basically a ward of the State, having sold all his worldly possessions to pay his debts.

But as is often the case in fairy tales and the art world, Frans Hals' name is now glorified as one of the three greatest Dutch painters of his time, second only to Rembrandt van Rijn and recently edging out latecomer Johannes Vermeer in popularity. Indeed, Hals is credited with having had a profound influence over such 19th and 20th Century artists as Vincent Van Gogh, John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, Claude Monet and Robert Henri.

Despite these accolades, the Ĺ“uvre of Frans Hals is still relatively vague in the eyes of modern day American museum goers. In an effort to correct this ambiguity, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has dug deep into its vast holdings to put together an exhibition showcasing Hals' genre and portrait paintings as well as a number of works by his contemporaries obviously following in his rather substantial footsteps.

Frans Hals' early works are exuberant country scenes with Dutch folk characters such as Peeckelhaering (Pickled Herring) and Hans Wurst making merry with local maidens. These jolly genre scenes are typically brightly colored and portray local personalities and customs. As he matured he turned more toward portraiture, either of married couples (which he painted separately), families (he was a genius at group scenes) or of prominent individuals. Here his palate is toned down, and often monochromatic with a few loose brushstrokes able to convey rich tones and the finest details (see portrait "Paulus Verschuur", left).

Thanks to the collecting passion and later great generosity of such patrons as Benjamin Altman and Louisine Havermeyer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art can boast one of the greatest single collections of paintings by Frans Hals. An exhibition such as this one, though probably not one of the most popular on the Museum's calendar, is invaluable to museum goers who wish to explore the past and appreciate how important an inspiration these titans of art continue to exert today.

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