Frans Hals: The Male Portrait 

The Wallace Collection's latest exhibition showcases the incredible artistry of the Dutch master Frans Hals. Peter Gray reports.

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The Wallace Collection is set to showcase one of the finest portrait painters in the history of Western Art this autumn, courtesy of its new exhibition, Frans Hals: The Male Portrait.

Part of the Dutch Golden Age, Hals lived and worked in 17th century Haarlem, where he quickly established himself as one of the foremost portrait painters in Europe. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The Male Portrait centres around Hals’ most iconic work, The Laughing Cavalier, which will be shown alongside a dozen of the artist’s best known portraits from a variety of collections across the UK, Europe, and North America.

It is no accident that the museum has chosen the Laughing Cavalier as the focus of its new show. The portrait was purchased in 1865 by the founder of The Wallace Collection, the 4th Marquess of Hertford, for the then astronomical sum of 51,000 francs. 

Frans Hals The Male Portrait The Laughing Cavalier

The sale was to have a transformative effect on the Dutch painter’s fortunes. Hals’ work had fallen into obscurity by the time of the sale, yet the publicity generated by the purchase led to a dramatic increase in interest in the artist.

Given the dramatic effect that The Laughing Cavalier had on Hals’ career, it is surprising that so little is known about the subject of the painting. For instance, we do not know who he was, or, for that matter, what he did for a living.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The Hertford House exhibition will offer visitors an opportunity to explore the work like never before. The Laughing Cavalier will be displayed side by side with another famous portrait by Hals: the Portrait of Tieleman Roosterman. It is the first time that the two paintings have been shown together with the exhibition offering visitors a remarkable opportunity to compare the works.

Many believe Roosterman, a wealthy Dutch merchant, to be the subject of The Laughing Cavalier. His luxurious and beautifully embroidered costume – a hallmark of many of these portraits – is certainly fitting for a man of his profession and his slightly chubby yet pleasant face certainly fits.

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The Male Portrait will trace Hals’ evolution as a portrait painter, from the finely painted early works, to the restricted palette of later years and the bolder, broader, and more fluid brushwork which so inspired the Impressionists.

“This exhibition gives us an opportunity to marvel at Hals’s technical virtuosity and explore the notion of manhood in 17th-century Holland, and the ‘male gaze’ when it is turned on men” says Exhibition Curator, Dr Lelia Packer.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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“As well as addressing notions of gender and masculinity, the exhibition also focuses on individuals and their self-presentation. We have assembled a fantastic group of proud and determined figures, each of whom vie for our attention and communicate their stories through their very deliberate portrayals.”

The Director of the Wallace Collection, Dr Xavier Brays, meanwhile, had this to say about the exhibition: “this show – the Wallace’s first major international Old Master exhibition – is a momentous event in our ambitious new programme and is directly connected with the Collection’s new ability to lend artworks to our colleagues at home and internationally.

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It felt only fitting that we should honour our most beloved and enigmatic portrait with this unprecedented study of his unique cultural and art-historical influence, as well as to reunite him with his ‘friends’ from the collections of our wide ranging and eternally generous lenders.”

Frans Hals: The Male Portrait will be at The Wallace Collection from the 22nd of September 2021 until the 30th of January 2022. More information about the exhibition can be found here.

For information on other great art exhibitions in London, please click here.

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What: art exhibition
When: 22 Sept 21 – 30 Jan 22
Where: The Wallace Collection