In December 2018, I visited the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem for the exhibition Frans Hals and the Moderns. It is an exhibition in which the work of Frans Hals is put side-by-side with some modern artists who he inspired after his death. The exhibition includes many paintings by Frans Hals, including some works that they have lent from other museums. Moreover, the exhibition includes works from artists like Courbet, Manet, Sargent, and Van Gogh.
The normal entrance fee for the Frans Hals Museum is €15, but for this exhibition, a surcharge of €8 is added, for a total of €23. It is a relatively high fee for a Dutch museum, but it provides an opportunity to see some great works in a single exhibition. After you enter the museum, you have the choice to start with a 15-minute video about Frans Hals. The video is shown on a large number of screens positioned in a half-dome shape. The video is great and provides a wonderful introduction for the rest of your visit. I highly recommend watching the video. Before entering the exhibition rooms, make sure you grab a free audio tour. It will make your visit much more enjoyable.
The exhibition itself starts slow. You are able to see some of the visitor books from the 19th century, including the signature of the 19th-century art historian Thoré-Bürger who revived the status of Frans Hals. At the end of your visit, you can also sign the guest book yourself. In the next room, Hals’ Regents of the St. Elisabeth Hospital is on display. At that time, Hals was almost 60 years old, but he still had 25 years of painting ahead of him. You also get the opportunity to see some works by some Haarlem painters from the generation before Frans Hals, including Hendrick Goltzius, Cornelis van Haarlem, and Maerten van Heemskerck. The difference between the themes and the painting style of Frans Hals is striking, and many of us can understand why Hals is nowadays much more popular than the other Haarlem painters from the 16th and 17th century.
Continuing through the museum, you get to the Pronkkamer (showroom), Room 14. This room is truly amazing compared to the other rooms in the museum. Not only does it contain many more works than any other room in the museum, but it is also the only room with a beautiful design. I happened to visit the museum early, just after opening time, and when I arrived at the pronkkamer, I was the only one there. Being all alone with some of Hals’ most impressive works was very cool. The room includes three of Hals', so-called, schuttersstukken, which are the group portraits of the Haarlem civic guard. They include The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1616, The Officers of the St Adrian Militia Company in 1633, and The Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1639. The last painting contains the only known self-portrait of Frans Hals (second from the left on the top row). This room does not only show these three masterpieces but also provides a great idea of how Frans Hals developed himself during his career. Besides these group portraits, the room contains works by Frans’ brother Dirck Hals, Judith Leyster, and several other Haarlem artists from the 17th century.
By now, the museum becomes more interesting for those who are interested in more modern art. Paintings of Frans Hals are positioned side-by-side with those of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists. It is explained how Frans Hals was an inspiration to artists like Édouard Manet and Vincent van Gogh. Both of them visited the Frans Hals Museum in the 19th century (the museum was still called the Municipal Museum back then) and were very much inspired by what they saw. They drew inspiration from the compositions, loose brush strokes, and use of colors by Frans Hals. Among the works shown are the Boy with Pitcher by Manet from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Head of a Prostitute by Van Gogh from the Van Gogh Museum.
The whole visit took me about two hours, and I found it definitely worth it. As a disclaimer, I am not unbiased here as I am currently writing a book about the life of Frans Hals… But, despite the somewhat higher costs than you would have to pay for other Dutch museums like the Mauritshuis or the Rijksmuseum, I certainly recommend visiting this exhibition. One difficulty may be that the exhibition closes already on February 24, 2019. However, a visit to the Frans Hals Museum can still be worth it without this special exhibition, with the added benefit that the entrance fee will drop down to €15.
Written by Eelco Kappe