Fabulous Frans Hals: The Male Portrait

In which I discover that the Laughing Cavalier is neither laughing nor Cavalier….

But more of a shy, painted speed dater. Fascinatingly, once you venture through the sumptuous splendidness of the Wallace Collection, to discover Frans Hals male portraits almost in the basement, you can tell whether the subject was married or would like to meet by the direction they were facing (right for facing your spouse and left for ladies this way please!) The Cavalier is not cavalier — but a deeply serious bachelor, ready for a wedding….

The amazing subtly of Hals’ work means that you feel every textural fold, can almost stroke every scrolling drapery, count every whisker; admire the buttons and the designs of love on the non-cavalier’s definitely not humorous sleeves.

He captures young rich men striking a fashionable pose in jaunty hat and slashed sleeves, as well as self-made older men reflecting on their accomplishments and mortality.

They even follow you around the room, caught in conversation! I’m wondering who the toiling woman and child are in the landscape beyond the window. Are they just decorative passers by or is Hals making an ironic point about the integrity of the sitter?

Most impressively it’s the rippling lace and the ruffs and cuffs that he captures so marvelously and the sitters sense of their own importance, not to mention the shadows behind their heads. Some are so rich that they can afford to take their gloves off and have them loll from their hands — they have more gloves to spare and money for more gloves!

These portraits are phenomenally tactile! (even down the individual whisps of beard or moustache hairs)…

And although so much is black on black — the use of light, texture, drapery, movement, positioning is quite stunning….

Then he goes Impressionist at the end!

This was my favourite though — the shadow behind the sitter’s head gives it a real 3D quality; not to mention the unusual off-centre pose. I feel like the sitter is about to jump up and speak.

Not to mention the jolliness of lace and the linen! You can begin to count every ornamentation on the collar and cuffs as they seem to have a life of their own….and admire the tender curve of the hand resting on the chair…

@Paintings are all from the Wallace Collection’s exhibition Frans Hals: The Male Portrait, January 2022

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