Yesterday I went to the National Gallery to see the Frans Hals exhibition – his first retrospective in 30 years- and enjoyed it immensely.
You might think that portraiture could be boring but not so.
This is because Hals was a supreme technician, that his sitters often adopted unusual poses – side on, jaunty hand on hip as in the Laughing Cavalier – joyous faces and much detail beyond the portrait, for example the rich textured cloth of the sitter’s clothes.
There was one family portrait in the country and the back landscape could have been painted by Claude, Corot or Poussin.
Hals lived and painted into his senior years.
His final work, painted at 80, showed no decline in standard – so often, and understandably, the eyesight can fail but a group portrait of the Trustees of an Alms House showed the same careful attention to detail and fine brushwork .
Hals had a reputation as a toper. Many of his subjects had a bucolic air and florid cheeks and I wonder if drink was not proffered by Hals and he imbibed too.
Hals’ life more or less coincided with the Golden Age of Dutch art when the Netherlands found independence, the first free art market and masters like Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer and Hals.
Rembrandt painted 600 self-portraits there is not one in the exhibition by and of Hals.
This is not a big exhibition so easily navigable – I would say 70 works and not too crowded either.
At £20 entrance fee not cheap but worth it.