Frans Hals: The Male Portrait

The Wallace Collection 

Portrait of a man possibly Nicolaes Pietersz Duyst van Voorhout by Frans Hals Handsome, he may not have been, but I bet he was awfully good company; a confident, expansive, successful man-about-town with a quick wit. The man in question – thought to be Nicolaes Pietersz Duyst van Voorhout – a thirty-something brewer from Haarlem, looks down on us with a wry smile, his straw-coloured hair somewhat askew above his shiny cheeks, his grey satin doublet stretched across his tubby middle – both suggesting he wasn’t short of cash – and one hand planted raffishly on a hip. The genius of Frans Hals, the man who painted him around 1636-38, lay in his ability to provide us, not just with a striking portrait of a man, but to make us feel, nearly 400 years later, that we really are in his imposing presence.

Nicolaes Pietersz Duyst van Voorhout stands in good company. Around him lie twelve more portraits of men painted by Hals, gathered together by the Wallace Collection, and demonstrating why he is now recognised as one of the great virtuosos of the Dutch Golden Age. Well spaced-out to give us plenty of room to admire each one, and assembled around the room like they’re ready for dinner, they present the great and the good of Haarlem, all prosperous looking men, well able to afford the fees of the foremost painter of the city, several in the flush of youth, others older and in their prime.

Frans Hals: Isaac Abrahamsz Massa 1626 Bequest of Frank P Wood 1955 ©Art Gallery of Ontario In lesser hands, they could have been strangers who could arouse little curiosity, but Hals fires them with the flame of life and captures, seemingly in a fleeting moment, the spirit of man himself: Pieter van den Broecke, the no-nonsense, admiral, looking rather weather-beaten after years at sea; Isaac Abrahamsz Massa, the merchant and diplomat, contentedly leaning over the back of his chair, looking like he’s about to engage Hals in conversation. These are the living, breathing men of Haarlem, who made the city great, their energy and intelligence matched and captured by Hals’s own formidable skill and vigour. Then there’s the stunner from the Wallace Collection itself, The Laughing Cavalier, not actually laughing, but smirking and looking very pleased with himself. With his curly hair, ruddy cheeks, slick moustache, and an outfit to die for – all gold embroidery and lace – rendered by Hals with breathtaking perfection, he’s a picture of richness in every respect: in looks, in health, in self-assurance, in gorgeous finery. 

Frans Hals: The Laughing Cavalier 1624 © Trustees of the Wallace Collection London Starting with a sombre and thoughtful Portrait of a Man who is holding a skull, painted around 1610-14, the portraits well show just how far Hals’s style evolved during his long life. By the end, it was free-flowing but still capturing, in a bolder way, the essence of the man before him. It was this transition though, that led to a long hiatus in his reputation. Born around 1582 in Antwerp, Hals moved several years later with his parents to Haarlem, which was becoming a booming commercial and artistic centre. After gaining a reputation early as a portraitist, painting the elite of the city, Hals remained in Haarlem, dying there in 1666. Yet after his death, his work slipped out of sight, prompted by a disdain for his later style, which was considered somewhat rough and ready. It wasn’t until his worth was recognised later by the likes of Manet and van Gogh, that his star rose again. When the 4th Marquess of Hertford, (founder of the Wallace Collection) bought The Laughing Cavalier, in 1865 in Paris in a spectacular bidding contest at auction, paying way over the estimate, that people woke up to Hals again. 

Since Hals was out of fashion for so long, the names of his subjects prompted by that distain – including the Cavalier – were often forgotten. The identity of one though, Francois Wouters, a portrait belonging to the National Galleries of Scotland, was cleverly worked out by a keen-eyed visitor only some years ago. If only paintings could talk. Some of these men must surely have known each other and here they are, reunited, by virtue of a man whose work was resurrected to dazzle us again. Don’t miss them.

More information

Frans Hals: The Male Portrait
22 September – 30 January 2022

The Wallace Collection
Hertford House
Manchester Square
London W1U 3BN

80 people found this helpful

Share Article:

Diana Bentley

Freelance travel writer & broadcaster

Leave a comment


Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest travel tips on top destinations.

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Most Recent Articles

Mark Nicholls visits Austria’s snowiest ski resort and stumbles across a chapter of pop history….

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.