Frans Hals, the Elder, was a painter from the Dutch Golden Age, he produced mainly portraits. He was known mainly for his loose, painterly brushwork, introducing a quite more lively composition, as opposed to the sometimes gloomy Dutch art. An excellent example of such style is noticeable in The Gypsy Girl, now at the Louvre Museum.
Frans Hals the Elder was born circa 1582, in Antwerp, where then was part of Flanders, Spanish Netherlands, and nowadays, Belgium. During the Fall of Antwerp, which occurred in 1584, his parents, like several other families, his parents fled the city with baby Frans Hals. They emigrated from the south towards the north, to establish themselves in Haarlem, in the new Dutch Republic, where Hals lived for the remainder of his life. His childhood and first lessons were by Flemish émigré Karel van Mander.
Around his thirties, Hals became a member of the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke and started working for the city council as a restorer. In the same year, 1610, Frans Hals would marry his first wife, Anneke Harmendochter. She died in 1615, soon after their third child’s birth. One of the surviving children, Harmen Hals, also became a painter. Two years later, he married again; now, with Lysbeth Reyniers, the couple would have eight children.
Hals’ artwork was in demand throughout his life. However, due to his long lifetime, his work would eventually go out of style, and thus he began to experience financial problems. He would even lose property as a result of a debt to a baker, left impoverished, the city gave him an annuity. In addition to painting, Hals worked as an art dealer, a restorer, and a tax expert for the city councilors.
Towards the end of the 1610s, the region going through a quite tense political situation impelled the dissolution of the Haarlem town council by the Prince of Orange, also known as Maurice of Nassau. The Prince then reinstated the chamber with his political supporters. This proved to be quite beneficial to Hals since he soon became the preferred portraitist of the families of the supporters mentioned above, aiding his revenue greatly. Although the artist was quite successful and respected, painting the most distinguished people, he was never wealthy, much probably for the size of his family, as well as low payments for portrait paintings, despite being made by a fashionable artist.
Hals’ artwork was influential beyond his home country. His loose brushstrokes would be one of the inspirations that led to Impressionism. The city of Haarlem became a frequent destination of an artist wanting to see Hals’ paintings at his museum, artists such as Whistler, John Sargent, Manet, Van Gogh, and Courbet found inspiration in his oeuvre.
Frans Hals died in 1666.