HALS (1581/85 - 1666)

 

         Recognized today as one of the most brilliant of аllportrai­tists, Frans Hals was probably bom in Antwerp and was brought to Haarlem as a child. Interested in human face and figure, Hals was blessed with a gift for catching the individual in a mo­ment of action, feeling, perception, or expression and recording that moment with unerring strokes. Among his early commis­sions were group portraits of the militia companies that had been largely responsible for defending the new Dutch republic in the hostile world; these paintings radiate its self-confidence and opti­mism. Hals usually shows the citizen-soldiers in the midst of the banquets. The compositions, picturing a dozen or more males, mostly corpulent and middle-aged, each of whom had paid equal­ly and expected to be recognizable, were not conductive to ima­ginative painting. The predecessors of Hals had composed these group portraits in alignments hardly superior compositionally to a modem class photograph. It was the genius of Rembrandt to raise them to a level of high drama. But Hals in his Banquet of the Officers of the Saint George Guard Company, of 1616 has a su­perb job within the limitations of the traditional type. The mo­ment is relaxed, the gentlemen turn toward each other or toward the painter as if he had been painting the whole group at once, which was not certainly the case. Massive Baroque diagonals — the curtain pulled aside, the flag, the poses, the ruffs — tie the pic­ture together into a rich pattern of white and flashing colours against the black costumes. Broad brushstrokes indicate the pas­sage of light on colour with a flash and sparkle unknown even to Rubens.

         The warmth of Hals's early style is seen in The Laughing Ca­valier. The date 1624 and the subject’s age 26 are inscribed in the background, and since the Cavalier's diagonal shadow also falls on it, it is clearly a wall. The Caravaggesque nowhere is thus converted into a definite here. The wall is irradiated with light and seems insubstantial. The armours proclivities of the young man are indicated by the arrows, torches and bees of Cu­pid and the winged staff and hat of Mercury embroidered in red, silver and gold on the dark brown of his slashed sleeve, with his glowing complexion, dangerous moustaches, snowy ruff and dashing hat, the subject is the symbol of Baroque gallantry. The climax of the painting is the taunting smile on which every com­positional force converges.

         The opposite of this glittering portrait is the sombre Malle Babbe, of about 1630—33. Nobody knows who the old creature was or the meaning of her nickname. Often called an «old crone» she might be from forty to sixty years old. Hals has caught her in the midst of a fit of insane laughter. Possibly she is a town idiot and the owl on her shoulder is a symbol of foolish­ness. The expression seized in a storm of strokes is rendered with a demonic intensity.

        About 1664 when he was past 80, Hals showed a still dif­ferent side of his character and ability in the Regentesses of the Old Man's Almshouse. Painted almost entirely in black and white and shades of grey, this solemn picture is united by diagonal movements. The painter had only devastated faces and white collars of the women as component elements. Each of the sub­jects has reacted in a separate way to age and experience, yet all participate in a calm acceptance of the effects of time. In its simplicity the composition shows an expressive depth unexpec­ted in the generally excited Hals.

 

 

Notes

Banquet of the Officers of  the  Saint George Company - «Портрет офицеров гильдии святого Георгия»

The  Laughing  Cavalier– « Портрет молодого офицера»

Malle  Babbe  - «Мале Бабе»

Regentesses  of  the  Old Man′s Almshouse – «Регентши приюта для престарелых»

 

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