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Frans Hals Museum celebrates 150 years since artist rediscovered by 'moderns'

A fascinating new exhibition at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem celebrates the 'rediscovery' of its home artist by 19th century artists including Manet, Van Gough, Singer-Sargent and Courbet

Photo showing original Frans Hal painting next to a copy by Singer-Sargent
The original Frans Hals painting of Regentresses of The Old Men's Almhouse c.1644. with copy of two of the figures by John Singer-Sargent next to it. Photo (c) F. Richards

Haarlem is known as a city of culture and it is definitely living up to its reputation with two major exhibitions on at the same time. At the Frans Hals Museum, they have Frans Hals and the Moderns: Hals meets Manet, Singer Sargent, Van Gogh and at the Teylers Museum there is Leonardo da Vinci. The Language of Faces.

The Frans Hals exhibition looks at the influence that Hals had on later artists such as Manet, Monet, Singer-Sargent, Liberman and van Gogh. The curators are celebrating the 'rediscovery' of Hals by these 'modern' painters, exactly 150 years ago. Ann Demeester, Director of the Museum said "It is especially relevant that we are holding the exhibition that we have always 'had to hold' at this particular point in time, because it is exactly 150 years since Frans Hals was rediscovered." ​

 Edouart Manet, Copy of The Regentresses of the Old Men's Almshouse after Frans Hals, 1872.
Edouart Manet, Copy of The Regentresses of the Old Men's Almshouse after Frans Hals, 1872. Private Collection, Italy

This exhibition is also the first time that Frans Hals' paintings have been shown alongside paintings by 'modern' painters and it shows the impact that Hals had on their paintings.

After the opening of the Stedelijk Museum in Haarlem in 1862, which displayed many works of local artists, the 19th-century painters became frequent visitors to the city in order to see and study the paintings. They particularly loved Hals' work and they were fascinated by his style - the loose, rough brushstroke - as well as his portrayals of different subjects (such as the laughing child), the poses they struck and even the details of clothing (the ruff collar makes a comeback - see below in Chases' Portrait of a Woman).

Painting of young lady with high collar by William Merritt Chase
William Merritt Chase, Portrait of a Woman, 1878. Wadsworth Atheneum of Museum of Art, Harford, CT. Note the return of the high collar

The exact 'rediscovery' of Hals is pinpointed to 1868, when he was noticed by the influential French art critic Theophile Thore-Burger. Hals had been ignored by art critics for most of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century as his style of painting, with the loose brushwork, no longer matched the favoured academic style of measured and precise painting. His choice of paintings also apparently showed a 'frivolous way of life' which was matched by his 'loose' style (he was often drunk) and so he was presented to young artists as a 'bad example'. As a result his paintings were of little value to the art market and were not included when talking of Golden Age painters.

But Thore-Burger wrote about Hals' paintings in a new light which led to his rediscovery by the likes of Manet, Lieberman, Singer Sargent and van Gogh - and his image changed from a 'riotous drunk' to a 'modern idol'. These painters were impressed by his style of painting - his loose brushstrokes were now seen as 'impressionistic'. Many of his paintings were copied directly, and these copies are included in the exhibition (see Singer Sargent's copy of ladies from Hals' group painting above and Manet's copy of the same painting, also above).

photo of exhibition in Frans Hals Museum showing impressionist painters working in their gallery
The 'modern' artists would have had to copy Hals' work in the galleries. Image (c) F. Richards

It would have been no mean feat to copy his works - the artists would have had to have done sketchers as they couldn't have copied his larger works of art in the galleries themselves. They copied them both to study his technique but also to have as souvenirs. (There is a photo of the Singer Sargent in his studio and you can see the copy he made of the Regentresses on the wall. He never sold it but kept it for himself).

Some exhibitions have very tenuous subject matter and when I first heard about this exhibition I thought it might be one such type. But the show is very thoughtfully laid out and split into a number of different sections for comparative purposes, such as direct copies, clothing styles, subject types and so forth, and they show anything but tenuous connections. Indeed it is a very insightful and enlightening exhibition.

Painting of a smiling child by Frans Hals
Above, Frans Hals, Laughing Boy, c.1625 . Collection Mauritshuis, the Hague.

The exhibition is accompanied by a magazine rather than the usual catalogue, and it is filled with interesting articles about Hals, the exhibition and some of the 'modern' painters featured in the exhibition.

A combined ticket is available for both this exhibition and the Leonardo at the Teylers Museum. I can't recommend highly enough a visit to the charming town of Haarlem to enjoy both the many things it offers plus these exhibitions.


Frans Hals and the Moderns. Hals meets Manet, Singer Sargent, van Gogh.

Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem

Showing until: 24 February 2019

For more information on the exhibition CLICK HERE

For more information on a combined ticket CLICK HERE

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