Part of Frans Hals, The Laughing Cavalier, 1624
Part of Frans Hals, The Laughing Cavalier, 1624
Photo: © Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London
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Frans Hals, The Male Portrait

Sept. 14, 2021

Frans Hals (c.1582/3–1666) is one of the greatest Dutch masters, praised by his contemporaries for his capacity to paint lifelike portraits that seem ‘to live and breathe’.

The Wallace Collection, London, will celebrate Hals’s most famous and beloved, yet still enigmatic, painting The Laughing Cavalier (1624).

The historic purchase of The Laughing Cavalier in 1865 by the 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800– 1870), the Wallace Collection’s principal founder, was instrumental in the revival of Frans Hals during the 19th century. Prior to this, Hals had been lost to obscurity. At a sale in Paris, Lord Hertford sensationally outbid Baron James de Rothschild paying the astronomical sum of 51,000 francs for the picture (more than six times the estimate). The publicity around the sale led to the immediate fame of the painting and of Hals, causing prices of his works to soar. This iconic image has never been seen together with other works by the artist and will form the centrepiece of Frans Hals: The Male Portrait - the first ever show to focus solely on Hals’s portraits of men posing on their own – placing The Laughing Cavalier within the broader context of Hals’s depictions of male sitters.

The exhibition will bring together over a dozen of the artist’s best male portraits from collections across the UK, Europe, and North America. The show aims to demonstrate how across more than 50 years of Hals’s career, through pose and virtuosic painterly technique, he completely revolutionised the male portrait. He infused his works with a vitality and animated presence that was at the time, entirely new to portraiture. Exhibits date from the beginning of Hals’s career in the 1610s right up to the end of his life in 1666.

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Frans Hals was born in Antwerp in 1582/3. In 1586 his family moved to Haarlem where he remained for the rest of his life. By the turn of the 17th-century, due to many professionals moving north to avoid religious persecution, Haarlem became a prominent cosmopolitan capital and vibrant artistic centre. Hals worked mainly as a portraitist, but during the 1620s and early 1630s he also painted genre scenes. Hals’s patrons were predominantly from Haarlem’s elite, and included the city’s militia companies, burgomasters, patricians, and wealthy citizens, such as brewers and merchants employed in the successful beer and cloth industries that constituted the city’s main areas of commercial production. Hals’s unique ability to represent his sitters in a fleeting moment gained him an enthusiastic clientele and a distinctive niche within Haarlem’s portrait market, which he dominated for several decades, until his death in 1666.

The largest collection of Hals’s paintings can be found in his home city of Haarlem at the Frans Hals Museum.

Frans Hals: The Male Portrait runs at the Wallace Collection from 22 September 2021 – 30 January 2022.

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