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Haarlem home to Hals museum

HAARLEM, Netherlands—Not everybody likes Rembrandt. Lovely work with the honeyed hues, but overall too dark, too sombre! Try some Frans Hals, then. Hals (1580-1666) was a contemporary of Rembrandt’s and another Dutch master, but where Rembrandt was gold, Hals was silver; where Rembrandt was moody, Hals was exuberant. To some he was the first Impressionist, eschewing finicky detail for broad, confident strokes. He influenced Monet and Manet; van Gogh loved him.
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THE FRANS HALS Museum in Haarlem

HAARLEM, Netherlands—Not everybody likes Rembrandt. Lovely work with the honeyed hues, but overall too dark, too sombre! Try some Frans Hals, then. Hals (1580-1666) was a contemporary of Rembrandt’s and another Dutch master, but where Rembrandt was gold, Hals was silver; where Rembrandt was moody, Hals was exuberant. To some he was the first Impressionist, eschewing finicky detail for broad, confident strokes. He influenced Monet and Manet; van Gogh loved him.

There are works by Hals in major museums around the world, but the largest collection (14 paintings) is in the Frans Hals Museum in the artist’s hometown, Haarlem, a 15-minute train-ride from Amsterdam. It’s worth the short trip as much to get a sense of how Holland was in its Golden Age as to see the paintings. Haarlem was an important city in the 1600s and the old town, which you walk through to reach the museum, is not much changed from those days.

The museum itself is in a 17th-century building on a street, Groot Heiligland, that’s still narrow, crooked and lined with homes from the 1600s. Hals lived in this street in the 1630s. What is now his museum was first an old men’s home. The portraits of the men and women who ran the place in Hals’ day, now hanging in the gallery, were done by the artist.

Unlike many Dutch masters, who also painted landscapes and still lifes, Hals did only portraits. Five of the works in his museum are the massive, group pictures of militia members — the same sort of thing Rembrandt’s most famous work, The Night Watch, depicts. But where The Night Watch is almost gloomy, Hals’ versions are bright and vibrant. The composition of one in particular, Banquet of the Officers of the Civic Guard of St.George, makes it seem as if the lads are aboard a rocking boat in a wind.

Hals was Haarlem’s best-known painter, but scarcely its only one. Because the city was a major exporter of linen it had a considerable number of wealthy families eager to have art in their homes. Between 1605 and 1635 more than 140 painters worked in Haarlem, producing more than 100,000 paintings.

A good sampling of them adorn the walls of the Frans Hal Museum, among them works by Pieter Claesz, Willem Claesz Heda, Jan Steen and Judith Leyster, one of the few women to gain stature in the 17th century, and whose style was similar to Hals’.

Like any good small gallery this one has its surprises. One is Satire on Tulips, a work by Jan Brueghel, a name associated with outdoor winter scenes. It pokes fun at those who were caught up in the tulip mania that swept Holland in 1635, depicting them all as monkeys.

The very best works of all of these artists are in other galleries, but there are excellent examples here, and the quietnessness of the museum, its lovely interior courtyard garden and its antique standing clocks chiming the quarter hour combine to make this a pleasant day out.

Access

For more information on the Frans Hals Museum visit its website at www.franshalsmuseum.com.

For information on travel in the Netherlands visit the Netherlands Board of Tourism website at www.holland.com.