THE most independent and completely nationalistic outburst of painting in
history is the Dutch school, which began with Frans Hals and passed out of
existence in the seventeenth century-an outburst indeed, for the whole move
ment was born and buried in Irttle more than two generations.
In this brief
period, Holland was overrun with painters, thousands of them; far more than
she could use, and a good picture would hardly fetch the price of a square
meal. Before the formation of the Republic, Dutch painting was indistinguish
able from Flemish; it was a bastard Italian product, absurdly pretentious and
utterly empty-but practically extirpated by the Reformed Church.
petus to a self-sufficient art appeared with the struggles of Holland against
Spanish oppression: a part of her energy and unparalleled powers of resist
ance was diverted into painting. The final peace with Spain was not signed until
1648; all the Important artists were born before that date, and all painted to
the roar of the cannon and the marshaling of troops. It takes comage to paint
in such circumstances.
Hals had plenty of physical courage, but of moral courage, not a shred. By
profession he was a painter; in other respects, a pot-walloper of genius.
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insatiable drinker in a society of guzzlers, he painted, drunk or sober, with
enormous vigor and equal integrity; at his best, with magnificent self-control;
at the other extreme, in slipshod streaks and patches-but never as a hack or
a pander. Moved by no strong prejudices or convictions,
Hals portrayed people
of all degrees and kinds, but was most successful with fishwives and tavern
heroes. He was a man of sudden intimacies and friendships formed on short
notice. At a single glance, he caught the personality of his subjects and the
social stratum in which they moved, and he developed-how, no one quite
knows-a technical instrument to preserve his impressions.
is an example of his more exact and reserved sty le, and of his unrivaled ability
to bring his sitter out of the picture plane and close to the spectator, as if to
abolish all formalities of presentation. It is a swift impression of a woman,
but a true and lasting one, a character and a type painted throughout with care
and finish, but retaining the liveliness and spontaneity of a preliminary sketch.