A Man with a Beer Keg
by FRANS HALS (Dutch School)
FOR two centuries after his death, the works of Hals were held in such low
repute that his most famous paintings were sold at auction for a few shillings.
The rehabilitation came with Manet, Whistler, and Sargent who championed
the old toper of Haarlem for two reasons.
His technical agility and the un
forced naturalness of his style were leveled, as a counterblast, against the
stilted artifices of the academicians-there is no more deadly weapon with
which to slay the custodians of a threadbare tradition than a rediscovered old
master. Second, his poit of view was that of an impressionist: he seized upon
a specific instant in the life of his sitters, and reproduced, as expeditiously as
possible, a visual image of nature, a portrait image unsullied by his own
How Hals acquired his fluid style of pamtmg is not altogether clear. He
was born at Antwerp where his parents were living as refugees to escape the
Spanish terror ; and it is more than likely that he was, in his student days in
the Flemish city, associated with Rubens.
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But the most important factor in the
formation of his personal style was his mode of living in Haarlem. Hals was
dissolute and ungovernable, and was forced by necessity to develop a technique
enabling him to knock off a portrait at one sitting after a night’s debauch, and
to paint in adversities which would have killed a man of less stamina and con
The death of his first wife from a beating he had given her did not
deter him; he married a second and brought up ten children, among them seven
sons whom he trained in his own occupation. Some of his best pictures date
from his bankruptcy, while his second WIfe lay dying; in his eighties, an inmate
in an almshouse, he painted group portraits of the governing boards.
In a mood of Bohemian heartiness, Hals painted A Man with a Beer Keg,
responding, with a lighter palette and a careless certainty of touch, to the facial
animation of a jovial tippler.
He painted all sorts and conditions of life from
sharpshooters of the military guilds to half-cracked women with parrots, but
his most extraordinary technical performances were inspired by his cronies.
In his realistic manipulation of paint, Hals has a place of his own in art.
his ability to capture what is known as a speaking likeness, to map out the
features of his subject in broad half-tones, adding lights and shadows in swift
strokes which seem to hit the mark by drunken good luck, but which were
actually laid on with an infallible sense of fitness, he has never been excelled.