Frans Hals (1582/83 – 1666) was one of three famous painters who, along with Vermeer and Rembrandt, defined the Dutch Golden Age of painting in the 17th century.
Hals was trained by the Mannerist painter, Karel van Mander, who instructed his students to paint either “neat” (precisely) or “rough” (without great detail). His star pupil came to master this rough style, ultimately becoming one of the most famous Dutch painters in art history.
Of the nearly 300 Frans Hals paintings, nearly all are portraits – but few are as magnificent as his diminutive Portrait of a Preacher.
The candor of the expression in the preacher’s eyes hints at a complex personality. His mustache is painted “wet in wet” (painting atop wet paint) while a single brushstroke defines his thumb. Nearly every brushstroke is vital in modeling this portrait; none is superflous.
While the preacher’s identity isn’t certain, it is certain that through this streamlined format, he intended to be remembered as a simple man. Few attributes define him or offer clues to his identity:
- his lace collar is as plain as they came;
- his background and clothing lack ornamentation; and
- his skullcap is not necessarily indicative of priesthood.
Notes John Walsh, Director Emeritus of the Getty and a specialist in Dutch paintings, this gentleman was a “man above vanity”.
The sitter wanted to be portrayed as representative of a certain class or type, making it all the more remarkable that despite those societal expectations, Frans Hals nonetheless conveys an individualized, distinctive personality.
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