Hals is best known in the UK for his smirking gent wearing fashionable clothing and impeccably maintained facial hair - a painting known as ‘the laughing cavalier’, that’s on loan from The Wallace Collection. This exhibition shows that this work isn’t his only piece worthy of praise as there’s joyful expressions aplenty and when it comes to the impressive facial grooming of 17th century Dutch gentlemen, Hals captures it so well that it will trigger moustache envy in modern day visitors to this show - well, for the men at least.
The Wallace Collection did have an excellent show of his male portraits spanning 2021 and 2022, so this does seem to follow very shortly after but it’s a more exhaustive exhibition that looks across a wider variety of works. The National Gallery show includes large scenes with multiple figures but these do all feel like individual portraits combined rather than one seamless painting featuring many persons, sadly there’s no Hals equivalent to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch here.
Given Rembrandt was his contemporary, it’s natural to draw comparisons between these Dutch masters and while Hals never quite matches the drama and intensity of a Rembrandt portrait his style is much more suited to the lighter portraits that he created. When it comes to capturing the freshness of youth or the rosy cheeks of a young woman reaching for some fruit, that’s where Hals truly shines.
His later works show how his brushstrokes got looser and these works may not have the fine detail of his earlier pieces but they have a great dynamism and energy to them, as if the painter himself is loosening up alongside his brushwork.
This comprehensive exhibition showcases what a talented portrait painter Frans Hals was, especially when it comes to immortalising happier moments. It’s a joyful exhibition that will leave visitors with a subtle smile on their faces, much like that of a certain cavalier.
Second image: © Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.
|What||Frans Hals, The National Gallery, review|
|Where||National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
30 Sep 23 – 21 Jan 24, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|