I DO not not propose to take all the portraits which hang under the name of Hals in all the galleries. There are few tasks more monotonous both to writer and to reader than the wading through details of portraits, often of unknown persons, or of persons of no interest, the portraits themselves inaccessible, practically, to most readers. I shall merely deal with a selection chosen chiefly from the galleries most easily accessible from England, in Holland, Belgium, France; going further afield only where the picture is indispensable to the subject. To attempt to do more than this is merely to write an enlarged catalogue. And, indeed, I trust the reader has already realized the difficulty which is involved in writing of the career of a man whose work, consisting of portraits only (for his so-called ” genre ” pictures are merely portraits in which the astonishing expression of character at a given moment in the individual makes us forget the individual in the character), involves a monotony from which one cannot escape.
A survey of the portraits which Frans Hals painted will disabuse the mind of at least one prejudice concerning the great painter. It will go far to put an end in us to the view, which has been expressed by many writers, that Hals was a mere painter of externals; one who caught the surface peculiarities of a man and could pre-sent them to us with astonishing verve and vraisemblance but who did not penetrate beneath the surface, or read the inner man very subtly. One may fully grant that Frans Hals was not a thinker in the sense in which Rembrandt, Velazquez, and even Van Dyck, were thinkers ; and there are, I dare say, very few of us who have not at sometime or other, in standing before one of Hals’ brilliant, dashing bits of rapid character-catching, found ourselves expressing the inward doubt whether Hals realized that his sitters had souls at all. The injustice is due, I am persuaded, to the fact that few people have ever taken the trouble to view Hals as a whole. For some reason there has been an unconscious conspiracy, both among picture-lovers and writers, to think of him through one or two of his most astonishing and indeed incomparable achievements as a rapid setter-down of facial expression. But anyone who has stood long before the gentleman and his wife of the Cassel Gallery; the Jacob Olycan and Aletta Hanemans of the Hague; the Albert Van der Meer and his wife of Haarlem; the Beresteyn pair of the Louvre; the old housewife of the same gallery, and, above all, the consummate portrait of Maria Voogt, 1639, at Amsterdam, not to speak of many others, will have to reconsider his verdict. Hals has shown him-self in these to be as perfectly capable of handling a worthy face with quiet dignity and full insightremember that his sitters were of those who do not carry their souls upon their faces, nor their hearts upon their sleeves as he was capable of setting down the rapidly-passing expression of his Laughing Cavalier, his jester at Amsterdam, his Gipsy Girl of the Louvre, and his Hille Bobbe of Berlin. The fact that he painted these latter, and more like them, has no business to rob him of his reputation as a great translator of the more worthy moods of man, which is due to him on the evidence of a far larger body of witnesses. For if the list of his portraits be perused, it will be found that these laughing drinkers and jesters, by which the world has insisted on judging him, are in quite a small minority. The minority would be probably far more strikingly small, if any-thing like a due proportion of his work had survived to us.
The earliest portrait of Hals which is known to survive is, if the date upon the picture be correct, the well-known portrait of Pieter Van der Morsch, in the possession of Lord Northbrook, which passes under the name of The Herring Seller, because Van der Morsch is represented holding a basket of red herrings under his left arm, while with his right hand he holds up one of the fish. Pieter Van der Morsch was the messenger of the Mayor and Corporation of Leyden, and a portrait of him is in the museum of that town. He was, besides being the municipal messenger, which one may take to have been a kind of glorified beadle, ” a member of the Chamber of Rhetoric,” a dignity which I have previously discounted in some remarks on those very expansive and all-embracing institutions in the chapter on the biography of Hals.
The picture is an undoubted Hals, and of fine quality, but I confess that without the date on the left of the picture I should have supposed it had belonged to a much later period. Perhaps the alteration of the last figure but one may have occurred at some past date when the picture was cleaned or revarnished. The general tone of the picture is low, the black dress of the man merging into the dark grayish green of the background. The flesh tones also are lower and more suffused than is quite usual with Hals at so early a date. The inscription tells us that Pieter Van der Morsch was seventy-three when this portrait was painted At the right-hand upper corner hangs a shield carrying a half-unicorn rising from the waterVan der Morsch probably meaning ” from the morass.” The Van der Morsch family had emerged with its fortunes, one may surmise, as many another Dutch-man has, out of the marsh reclaimed to a polder.
It is the somewhat heavy and not very quick-witted face of an old man who has lived a good deal in the open air. There is a good deal of character in the face. He would have been a difficult man to prevail over in argument, or to get the better of in a deal over herrings. Van der Morsch looks like a man of his own opinion, as a high-class beadle is ever bound to be; and he wears his best municipal black cloak and ruff with a dignity which is a little at variance with, or at any rate must be said barely to carry off, the herring basket. Hals indeed has shown a very fully developed power of setting’ down characteristics which are by no means quite the easiest to express; and if I felt absolutely assured of the date I should claim it decisively as another proof that Frans Hals’ mastery in the year 1616 could only be the out-come of long and varied practice.
Of the same year 1616 is a portrait group of three persons, known as The Merry Trio, now in America; but a most admirable copy, said to be from the hand of Dirk Hals, which, we are told, varies in very slight particulars from the original,’ hangs in the Museum at Berlin. Even the copy declares itself as a very enjoyable work. It would, however, be a waste of time to criticise the handling or style of the picture which cannot any longer be compared with its original. But Hals’ command of facial expression shows itself in the young girl’s face in as emphatic, and necessarily in a more pleasing, shape than even in the great Doelen picture of that year. The sitters do not, apparently, come from the highest class of society. If the triumphal crown which the girl in the background waves over the heads of the loving couple be really, as it seems certain, one of those elongated sausages in which the Dutch provision shops rejoice, then the allusion to the occupation of the man seems tolerably obvious, and the man’s type is justified. The girl, on the other hand, is cast in a less unrefined mould, and may fairly claim to have got the worst of the bargain.
We find ourselves, perhaps, on more certain ground as we stand before two portraits in the Cassel Gallery which bear the date of 1620, and, their identity being lost, are catalogued as a Dutch Nobleman and a Noble Ladyman and wife. Of this pair the portrait of the lady is the more desirable merely because the restorer or cleaner has slightly injured and weakened the surface of the man’s portrait in parts. But even as it stands it is an extremely fine work. It shows Hals capable of interpreting and painting a gentlemanthe man is emphatically thatand of rendering a strong and thoughtful face with as much certainty of perception as he brings to the most empty-brained of his swashbucklers, the most impudent of his mountebanks.
This picture gains strangely upon one as one watches it. And here let me say at once that this is a quality which will be found to be true of all Hals’ work. I know no man who so needs to be known: I know no man who when known improves so much through acquaintance. It is a quiet, restrained, dignified presentment of an interesting personality. The man looks like a thinker as well as a man of action. There is no swagger in the pose, but there is great strength and self-reliance. This was the type of man who helped to win his country back for itselfand Hals has dealt worthily with a worthy theme.
There is very little colour except a little blue and red and gold in the carefully wrought belt. The flesh shadows are warm gray, the light beard and rather darker hair being very softly rendered. The modelling of the face is admirable and quite without haste or bravado ; restrained, and the means very subtle and not visible, yet convincing.
The ruff is superbly rendered. At a little distance you see its soft quality, as light to the touch as the plumage of a bird. The cuffs are painted with care, but they are got at, not by piecemeal imitation, but by well-considered simplification. The hands are finely modelled, and with complete and summarized knowledge, as in every genuine picture by Frans Hals. The right hand, however, in this picture has, on its under surface, the look of having been laid on a dusty table, the cleaner having apparently removed some of the flesh tints, thereby leaving the under painting to show through.
When one turns from this masterly portrait to the picture of the lady, there comes, at the first flash of thought, a curious memory of some of Sanchez Coello’s Spanish princesses, especially one of great charm which hangs in the Prado at Madrid. Now there is absolutely no resemblance between the styles of Sanchez Coello and of Halsit would be difficult to choose two painters more unlike. The connection of thought is merely due to the fact that each picture gives one a comely young woman, placed upon a canvas with a certain direct simplicity, and decked in broidery of cloth of gold and jewelleries. It is, of course, merely one of those cases where similarity of subject calls up a reminiscence of some other painter.
But this suggestion of Coellowhich is, of course, wholly illusoryis worth following out for a moment for another reason. It is worth considering the different means by which the Spanish primitive painter obtains his resulta very charming oneas compared with Hals. The first paints you, touch by touch, his chains, his bracelets, his tiara, link by link, and gem by gem, with precision so great that if you called in a fairly capable goldsmith, of little or no intelligence, he could use them as a pattern and produce you an exact facsimile. Hals obtains his result by summarized knowledge, letting his line lose itself and find itself again, a flash on a link, a sparkle on a gem suggesting all to the eye with a completeness which is fully as complete as the literal word for word translation of the other man. Call in a really intelligent goldsmith to this work of Hals, and he would find it quite as easy as, or even easier than, the other to understand and reproduce from, but it would not do to make a tracing from, nor give as a pattern to one of his unintelligent apprentices.
At the same time I must guard myself against seeming to say that this portrait of the lady at Cassel is handled in its details in the fullest and most summary style of Hals. It is, on the contrary, as compared with many of his works, and even with the portrait of the husband, handled in a reserved and restrained manner, which at once gives me the opportunity to draw attention to a most notice-able trait in this artist. Wherever comparison can be made through two portraits, generally of man and wife, bearing the same date, it will be found that Hals attacks his women’s portraits in a far more restrained, precise, and less summarized manner than the men’s. The most convenient pairs through which to test the truth of this statement are: the Cassel pair under consideration; the Olycan pair at the Hague; the Beresteyn pair in the Louvre, and the Van Nierop or Van der Meer pair at Haarlem. The trait is a very singular one, and it runs throughout the work of the painter with such uniformity, even presenting itself in the last two Regenten groups, as to be of very great importance to us in attempting to assign dates to undated pictures. If all the pictures of Hals could be consigned to oblivion for a time, and meanwhile all the dates removed, we should, I am convinced, in trying to construct a sequence for the unknown artist’s works, find ourselves assigning these women’s portraits in all cases to an earlier period by many years than those of the corresponding men.
Now this trait needs explanation. It is obvious that the flash of a gold chain, the hide-and-seek lines of a cambric ruff the broad sheen on new satin, and all the other accidents of texture and surface are alike, whether they appear in the dress of a man or a woman. Yet Hals, treating them in either case with quite masterly ease, does unmistakeably handle these incidents in a man’s portrait with a far more trenchant and astounding force of hand than when he is setting himself to de-liver to one his translation of a woman.
I believe that the reader will have no difficulty in persuading himself, as I have, that this is a deliberate and designed part of Hals’ method. It is beyond question that his vigorous, free handling of his men’s portraits does somehow enhance the idea of strength which he wishes us to derive from them. And it is equally certain that the somewhat more reserved and more sedate style of the women’s portraits does help to give to them the air of quiet which we see in them. Indeed, those who have seen in Hals merely the brilliant slap-dash technician could never have formed that opinion if they had seen his women’s portraits alone. The Dutch lady of North Holland, and it was thence that nearly all Hals’ sitters cameit is extremely rare to find any of the animated dark-eyed Zeelanders among his sitters-is not vivacious of face or quick of glance, but she is quiet and simple of demeanour, self-possessed and good-humoured. And these characteristics Hals gives one quite completely, helping himself to obtain them by a certain gravity in his handling. What he might have done, or not done, if his sitters had had the grace, the refinement, the vivacity of Van Dyck’s English and Italian sitters, is neither here nor there. We have no right to claim that Hals should produce from his sitters qualities which did not belong to them.
Of very similar character and of equally fine quality are the pair of portraits at the Hague, Jacob Olycan and his wife Aletta Hanemans, and here, indeed, the male portrait enjoys the advantage of being in the finest and most undisturbed condition. Indeed, it may here be said that, probably owing to the very simple, sound, and direct methods employed by Hals, his pictures as a rule stand in as little need of restoration as those of any painter. And to alter the surface of a Hals or a Velazquez is as. great a crime and as great a folly as it would be to re-chip the surface of one of Michelangelo’s statues. This portrait of Jacob Olycan and his wife are superb examples of the master. They were painted in 1625, five years later than the Cassel pair, but they present no difference of style or of treatment. One may be content merely to observe, therefore, that the face of the wife, who is- eighteen years of age, looks very many years older, the close cap which hides most of the hair having this effect,- as may be noticed in Holland of the present day.
One year before Hals had completed the Olycan pair, he had painted his Portrait of an Officerknown as The Laughing Cavalierof the Wallace Collection, 1624. Of Hals’ work accessible in public galleries of England, no more striking specimen exists. Here, indeed, we have the painter rejoicing in the interpretation of a phase of character which had particular attractions for him. The cavalier is a young, well-fed, well-kept soldier, quite satisfied with himself, and evidently quite untroubled by any of those deeper searchings of the mind which are apt to leave their print upon the face. The smile upon his face is certainly one of the most irresistible things that ever was painted. It is not a laugh, nor a leer, nor a grin, but a smile which seems ready to burst into a laugh, and, as you watch the face, it takes slight and rapid variations of expression, so that you seem to see the look which has just passed and that which is just to come. No doubt there is a certain air of swagger-a characteristic which Hals always enjoyed the rendering of. But this is no mere swaggerer or swashbuckler. On the contrary, there is a force and even a fineness about the handsome brows that tell you this would be a bad man to have to meet in an encounter, and a good man to have to follow to one. Stand before this man’s portrait, and you can weave for him a history. There is something more than mere swagger in that self-assertive smile. He looks out at you with an air of supreme contempt at one moment, of supreme good-nature at another; but the expression is full of changefulness, full of that electric current which plays over the human face and tells you while you look at it at one moment what to expect from the next.
Technically it is of the highest merit, and is nearly, if not quite, as it left the painter’s hands. Even as it hangs on that wall in the company of Rembrandt, of Van Dyck, of Velazquez, it yields to none in that particular. It is for a man’s portrait more highly wrought than usual. The handling is not so fierce, if one may use the expression, as, for example, in his Doelen pictures. It represents the halfway between the St. Joris of 1616 and the St. Joris of 1627. Viewed close, the de-tail is somewhat more exact and less the production of summarized knowledge than is often the case. Even the lace collar is, for a man’s portrait by him, highly wrought.
There is no strong colour in the picture. The elaborate broidery is all in low-toned orange yellow on a cloth of blue gray. There is not a bit of pure vermilion, or crimson, or blue in the picture. And yet the impression left by the picture certainly is that its scale is somewhat higher than many of Hals’ individual portraits. The explanation lies doubtless, in the fact that the picture is slightly wanting in atmosphere, and does not go behind its frame.
To the same year as the Wallace Collection Cavalier, 1624, has been assigned the portrait of Frans Hals himself with his second wife, Lysbeth Reyniers, which hangs in the Rijks Museum at Amsterdam. I do not know if there is any evidence in support of that date. Presumably not, since it has even been assigned by some authorities to one of the earlier years immediately after the marriage of the heedless pair in 1617. But, for my own part, I should greatly prefer to assign it even to a later date than 1624at earliest 1627. Indeed it bears, especially in the tone and feeling of the background in which it is set, some analogies to the Doelen group of that year, 1627. It is true that this postdating increases the age of the couple. Still, forty-seven for the man and twenty-eight or so for the woman, are not impossible for the pair who are there presented, though I admit that one would be inclined to estimate them at less. But if we were to place this portrait beside the Wallace Cavalier, we should see good reason to agree to the interval. I am not, however, prepared to do battle for my dating, as it involves no serious point of importance in the history of Frans Hals’ art, and for the sake of convenience we will consider the picture here.
The portrait of an artist by himself is always an interesting study, not merely because it gives us his personality, but also because it pretty surely gives us his handiwork at its best, or what he meant to be its best, at the date. The man who paints his own portrait puts, it may be well expected, his whole strength into it, and produces in most cases a result which shows both him and his work at their best. And here in this portrait of himself and his wife we have Hals painting himself in a likeness which we may be sure was as convincing as he could make it, but with, we may be equally sure, no unfavourable bias. He and his wife are there in their best clothes, in their pleasantest expressions, in their most prosperous hour. The world was going pretty well with Hals about that time. There is a palace and a terraced garden, where fountains play and courtiers walk and a peacock struts in this vision of his; the poorhouse and the parish allowance had not entered into it yet. It is meant to be a sumptuous renderingprobably painted when he was in very good case, just after the gulden had come in, perhaps for one of the Doelen groups.
The picture itself contains several admirable and interesting points as well as several faults, and, upon the whole, it has received rather more praise than is quite its dueat any rate, as compared with much of Hals’ work. The faces are excellent and carry with them the assurance of likeness. The textures of the dress are handled as usual with masterly ease, and, above all, the colour of the picture is harmonious and enjoyable. One piece of pale red about the throat and chest of the wife is a sparing note of colour, placed there with an effect which would have been lost if the colour had been multiplied or repeated. But what strikes one most in the picture is a certain sense of decorative effect which is more than once apparent in the work of Frans Halsfor example, in the St. Adriaen Doelen group of 1627, and in the Heythuysen portrait of the Liechtenstein Gallerybut which is left aside presently, as were other possible directions of his art, in the one absorbing aim which he set before himself. In this picture the leaves of the trees are not dealt with realistically, but in warm brown, conventional tones against a blue sky, which in turn is broken into below by fountain and statue of the same warm, impossible, but agreeable tone. This decorative use of a well-worn convention in natural objects is exceedingly interesting. I have claimed for Hals a constant aiming at truth, not only in his faces and his figures, but in his still-life and his accessories. Here, however, we have him accepting with complacency, and embodying in his work, a decorative motion which, by its very nature, at once removes the landscape background from the province of reality. Hals introduced foliage very rarely in his pictures, and pure landscape even more rarely. When he did employ either the one or the other he broke no fresh ground, and he leaves us no evidence that he saw them except decoratively.
The composition of this picture certainly leaves some-thing to be desired. It is impossible to feel quite satisfied with the ugly lines in which the figure of Hals himself is set athwart the frame. And even after adopting this device to get the whole of himself into the canvasfor it really looks as if this were the cause of ithe has left himself in a curiously uncomfortable pose, which, more-over, seems to throw the figure forward as if about to tumble off its seat.
As a result, perhaps, of this awkward and constrained attitude, the drawing of the figure strikes one as not entirely happy. The bones of the leg do not quite express themselves inside their coverings. A thick, uniform, and monotonous black outline, which runs all down the left side of the man’s figure and divides him from his wife’s costume, is not, however, due to the hand of Hals, but is an effort of a restorer in the past.
The picture, however, is of the highest interest as a portrait of Hals and his wife. We need say little about the latter except that she is a pleasing-looking, good-tempered body of no great refinement 1 Naturally it is in the artist himself that our interest will centre. Here we have the man as he saw himself. It is not a face which contradicts, one must fully admit, the character which has been attributed to him. There is nothing intellectual in it, nor is it a face of keen perception and quick sympathy. It has, to say the truth, a something slightly animal about it, and no partizanship could possibly make anyone claim for it any sign of the spiritual. We should, to be sure, have never expected to find that there; but what we should have expected to find, but do not, is a look of greater strength and of greater mental power. The face is wanting in these qualities.
It will be best at this point to look at a portrait by Frans Hals in Devonshire House, which, though it bears no visible date, is probably about 1624. But we may consider it here most conveniently, not for any reason of date, but because it does, one may almost say undoubtedly, represent Frans Hals himself.’ The picture has never been exhibited. It has darkened a good deal, especially in the background, but with the varnish re-moved would probably be found to be in perfect condition. Mr. S. Arthur Strong first observed that the picture was a portrait of the painter, and no one who well knows the Amsterdam portrait will for a moment challenge the conclusion. It is, however, a far finer work than the Amsterdam couple, freer, less constrained, less self-conscious, and withal presenting us with a more powerful and somewhat less animal type than the other. It is, indeed, thrown on to the canvas with all the superb and masterly ease of the man. It is entirely free from that embarrassment which so often marks the portrait of an artist by himself. He seems so totally to have forgotten himself that it is more as if he had seen a face, a pose, a costume, which had. seized upon his fancy, and had worked upon it with all his artist nature set on fire by it. And the result is a portrait which, in every sense of the word, is fit to stand as a frontispiece.
There is in the pose of the figure a certain nonchalant ease which stops just short of swagger. It is Hals in his fine clothes, to be sure, but it is a portrait of Hals and not of his clothes; and this is saying very much indeed, for these same clothes, the ruff, the gorgeous brocaded sleeves, the whole tenue, are wrought with such matchless ease and power, that a mere painter of properties would certainly have overweighted them with interest, or rather would have underweighted the interest of the face. It is, however, no picture of fine clothes with a head, even a fine head, on the top; but it is a convincing, I had almost said an overwhelming presentment of a real and living personality. The condition is so sound, as is the case with nearly all Frans Hals’ works, probably owing to the directness of his technique, that it needs no restoration, even if there were any danger of such a treatment in its present guardianship. When the darkened varnish shall have been removed it will, one feels safe in saying, stand out as one of the most magnificent works which ever came from the hand of Hals.
For the sake of keeping the portraits of Hals together, we may here speak of one or two others. I pass over the St. Petersburg portrait for reasons explained in the catalogueit is evidently no portrait of the painter. But the little portrait at Haarlem, painted by Laurensz Van der Vinne, is said in the official catalogue to be a copy of an original by Hals himself, now owned by M. War-neck. It represents Hals as a man of perhaps sixty to seventy. The gay apparel of the Devonshire House portrait has long given way to the shabbier garments of waning prosperity, the air of the gay young gallant to the wrinkles of hard old age. It is a commonplace portrait rather, and its very commonplaceness makes it pathetic. There is a look about the face that tells one that time and himself had not done the best for him.
The Louvre possesses a very desirable pair of portraits of Nicholas Beresteyn and his wife, assigned to 1629. They hang in the very cramped little room in which most of this painter’s works appear, to their great disadvantage. For it may be easily proved by experiment that no full-sized portrait by Hals should be hung where you cannot get a clear fourteen feet of interval to view it fromhis later work requires more. And it is a misfortune that at Paris and at Berlin, each rich in the work of the painter, the smallness of the side-rooms and the in-difference of the lighting compel a nearness of view which his canvases can stand less than almost any man’s.
The two Beresteyn portraits, when compared with the two of 1620 at Cassel, present no sign of any breaking out into a new style, though they do show a broadening and enlarging of the old style. The handling is, more than ever, strong, decided, and direct, yet still with the comparative restraint which he was not to throw off for many a long year yet. This pair of pictures, indeed, has a special interest as leading up to the Beresteyn family group in the same room, in which the same man and woman are seen sitting with their children playing around them.
One’s first thought is that the colour is disagreeable and ill-harmonized, and the handling a little dry in parts. The lady wears a stomacher in which the colour is mainly yellow and red. Her dress is a shot silk green (of a most detestable tint) with pink reflections. The little girl scrambling on her mother’s knee has a dark blue-green velvet coat, with sleeves and collar of a horrible brick-dust red toned with orange. The little child in the nurse’s arms, holding a toy bird, has a red plush shot with golden yellow, and the child stooping forward to us has a dress of winesour tintclaret and water-with lightish green reflections. Now all this will not come together, and Hals resorts to the violent expedient of putting the nurse, or waiting-woman, who wears a jacket of terribly assertive vermilion, right in the middle of the picture, to reduce all these discordant elements to order by out-shouting themmuch as an incompetent teacher will sometimes try to restore order to his class by raising his own voice far above the rest. But the resource in either case is of imperfect result. Possibly it is the only one which was left in such a case; but the colour remains very unsatisfactory. It has been forgiven and over-praised by indulgent critics.
Now anyone who has seen the portraits by the painter which in date precede this picture will have quite assured himself that Hals did not of his own choice select discordant colours. Doubtless the tyrannies of family group painting sat not less heavily on the soul of an artist than those of the Doelen groups. The little Beresteyns wore those dresses. It was not to be supposed that Madame Beresteyn was to fit out her little fleet with entirely new Sunday clothes on a soberer scale to suit the whim of the painter. Clearly it was his job to paint them as they were. So in they have to go, claret and green and blue, vermilion, and yellowcolours dear to the maker of artificial salmon-flies, but not to the man whose eye already had found its rest a good deal lower down the scale. The picture is indeed redeemed entirely by the splendid quality of the individual portraits. Rendered in black and white, when the discordance has vanished from the group, it is no longer open to these adverse criticisms. Nicholas Beresteyn himself, one may notice, has some-thing which at first recalls Rubens; but merely, as calmer inspection will show, because his beard and his dress is of the pattern of Rubens himself, and of so many of his sitters, and not because of any identity of style. A more charming group than that of the nurse, if such she beor perhaps Madame Beresteyn’s sisterwho holds the two children, can hardly be imagined. Indeed, all that one can say against these five children (the sixth will be mentioned presently) is that they are painted a little older in face than is consistent with the true realization of childhood.
The picture is only by Hals so far as a point about eight inches behind the ruff of the girl who holds the two children. At that point a strip has been sewn on to the canvas- of some two feet in breadth, and extending the whole way up and down the picture. A close examination of this strip will show that the texture of the canvas is closer and finer than the rest. The difference of tone, also, is very apparent in the original, and may even be discerned in a photographic reproduction. A warmer, browner tone has replaced the more vivid greens of the rest of the picture. The handling is uncertain and woolly. The figure of the boy has no resemblance to the touch of Hals. It is evidently the work of an inferior man, who is trying, however, to put in his contribution without glaring contrast to the rest of the picture.
The explanation seems to me to be not difficult. The picture painted by Hals ended at the point indicated. Moreover, if a piece of paper be laid so as to cut the reproduction off at that point, it will at once be seen how greatly it is improved in its grouping, and how much less scattered the composition is, and how much less it seems to “tail off” to the right. Now at that time there were five Beresteyn children. By-and-by came a sixth, and when he was about two to three years old it seemed a pity to the Beresteyn parents that they should not have him in the group. So a commission was given to someone else to put him in. A strip of canvas was added (not from Frans Hals’ studio), and Master Beresteyn’s portrait duly appears, looking, it must be confessed, not a little de trop, and wholly unable to obtain his due share of attention from any of the grown-upsa quite obvious interpolation, in fact.
A very delightful example of the art of Hals is that portrait of the Nurse and Child-the latter said to be of the house of Ilpensteinin the Gallery at Berlin, which he painted in the year 1630. It is true that the restorer or cleaner has not left it to us quite as Hals did. The fact is visible in certain injuries to the surface, and certain faint scumblings in various parts of the picture, but above all in the very strong line of deep madder at the parting of the lips in the nurse, which has been refreshed with singular simplicity of purpose. Also the intervals between the baby’s fingers have been renewed with a more feeble touch, and there has been loss of modelling and replacement in the hand holding the apple. Still, taking it altogether, we may be thankful for what is left of a very notable and beautiful instance of Frans Hals.
The child’s lace stomacher, cap and collar are made out with a far more exact precision than it is easy to quote in any other picture by the masteronce more a very striking instance of the principle already enunciated, whereby the painter seeks to avoid, in a picture where the sign manual should be one of tenderness and weakness, all handling which conveys the suggestion, proper to manhood and virility, of strength or of violence. This piece of lacework is so followed out thread by thread through its pattern that it might be traced and hung up in a technical school as a pattern to the studentsa most rare method in Hals’ work of dealing with any detail, and assuredly not done without a very deliberately chosen purpose. The child’s dress is, with like intention, wrought with great care. And the result is a certain air of primness and primitiveness in the canvas which is charmingly correspondent to the note of the whole picture.
And this child’s face should be studied. It is not, granted, the child’s face of a Reynolds, or even of a Van Dyck or a Rubens. Hals is concerned less with the child as child than with the chance it gives him of working out a very difficult, because far more subtle and less tangible, problem of facial expression. If you watch the little face, rather an old little face one feels, you will see it just beginning to ripple all over with the laughter that will come in a minute; and as you stand before it you come to wonder why the little creature which is just on the edge of laughter takes so long to burst into it. One thinks as one looks at it that Hals perhaps learnt this knack as he watched his own children in his own home before the dark days had fallen upon it.
Two very fine portraits, which hang t Haarlem, are passed over with brief remark, not because they are not worth longer noticefew of the painter’s works rank higherbut because they do not represent any special type which we have not already touched. The catalogue of the collection in 1901 gives these portraits under the names of Nicolas Van der Meer, burgomaster of Haarlem, and his wife Cornelia Voogt. But the two are de-scribed by some writersand in Knackfuss’s monograph on Frans Hals are reproducedunder the names of Albert Van Nierop, Doctor of Laws and Member of the High Court of Justice, with his wife Cornelia Van der Meer. For the sake of consistency I follow the verdict of the official catalogues’ throughout this book, and the portraits are reproduced under the first-mentioned pair of names. Burgomaster or Doctor of Laws, Voogt, Van der Meer, or Nierop, it matters little. The man is a masterpiece of character-reading, and a masterpiece of painting; and the woman hardly less so in either sort.
The arms in the woman’s portrait are the same as in the portrait of Maria Voogt (1639) at Amsterdam (Chapter XIV).