Frans Hals
(Antwerpen, 1580/85-1666, Haarlem)
Portrait of a Man, ca. 1660/66
Oil on canvas, 70 x 58.5 cm
Grimm 168/Slive 219
Frans Hals was one of the most sought-after portraitists of the Golden Age of Dutch painting, in the seventeenth century. The portrait in the Bührle Collection was painted at the very end of his career. We see the likeness of a man who was two generations younger than the painter, then eighty years old. Hals succeeds in capturing his youthful sitter in an attitude of "cool" that speaks directly to people seeing it today – in stark contrast to many bombastic portraits from the Baroque Age, which ironically sought above all to impress the viewer. We do not know the name of the subject, but we can safely assume that he was rather wealthy. This is not only evident in his elegant, fashionable clothes and high, white collar; it can also be deduced from the fact that he could afford a portrait by someone as well known as Frans Hals.
For all the portrait's apparently casual manner, the skill of an experienced master is revealed by its very deliberate composition. Light falling from the left emphasises the nearer half of the face and body. In contrast to the half that lies in shadow, it accentuates the slight twist with which the subject turns almost spontaneously towards the observer. A subtle lightening of tone in the brown background allows the dark left arm to stand out from it, giving the figure a strongly three-dimensional quality.
There are few other paintings in the Bührle Collection that convey so clearly what a fan of the French Impressionists could find to arouse his enthusiasm in works by the Old Masters. The virtuoso brushstrokes made by Frans Hals in the seventeenth century express the same joy in the lively application of paint to canvas that is manifest 200 years later in the paintings of the Impressionists. The formal relationship between the Impressionists and some of the Old Masters was an argument used widely to sway opinion in favour of Impressionism in the days of Bührle's youth.