Tuesday, April 5, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Frans Hals

They always say that artists are way ahead of their time.  Frans Hals is a perfect example of that, especially when it comes to his painting style.  The portraits he created are delights to look at because Hals gave true expression to the faces, and his paint handling was certainly ahead of its time - about 200 years ahead of its time.
Hals was a Dutch painter and spent most of his life in Haarlem.  Little is known about his early life and career, but the first indication of his artistic interest was in 1610 when he joined the Guild of St. Luke in Haarlem - a society dedicated to advancing artists.  Hals began his career with portraits, both individual and groups of local guilds and military.  Later on in the 1620s, Hals began painting different subjects for his portraits, which became the start of his well-known trademark of painting expression in a series of character portraits.
Frans Hals took portraiture to a new level.  These were not the stiff, rigid portraits of noble, royal, or religious figures.  They were portraits of common folk that Hals painted full of life and with every detail in tact - warts and all, so to speak.  They had big smiles, rosy cheeks, and ragged clothing.  The personality of the sitter shines through each painting, and much of how our perspective realizes these personalities is through the way in which Hals painted.  The academic way of painting would have been to plan out each portrait with preliminary drawings, and carefully paced layering of the paint and glazes.  On the contrary, Hals was quite spontaneous and loose with his painting.  Looking at many of his later portraits, if we didn't know any better, we would think it was a painting from 19th century impressionism.  The brush strokes are handled with what I would refer to as intentional randomness.  They are quick and spontaneous, but are somehow in the right place with just the right amount of color and pressure applied to the canvas.  Only one other artist in the 17th century painted with this beautiful spontaneity, and I would argue he also mastered it to perfection.  We'll get to that artist later on in our 40 days.  As for Frans Hals, there is no doubt that the Impressionists and Expressionists of the 19th century own him a debt of gratitude for introducing a style of painting that would develop into the most important art movement in the 19th century. 

Frans Hals
The Laughing Cavalier
oil on canvas
83 x 67 cm.

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