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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals

"Laughing Cavalier" by Frans Hals

“Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals

“The Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals is famous for the lively and spontaneous style of portraiture created by the Dutch Golden Age Master. The subject is, in fact, not laughing but has an enigmatic smile, amplified by his upturned mustache. The painting conveys a sense of jesting and swagger that is the effect of the low viewpoint together with the sitter’s upturned mustache. His sparkling eyes, pointy beard, shiny nose, pink cheeks, large black hat, and confident pose all add to the charming swagger. The portrait is richly colored with a flashy costume of a doublet embroidered with fanciful motifs in white, gold, and red thread and with a gilded rapier pommel at the crook of his elbow.

The title is an invention of the Victorian press, dating from its first exhibition in 1872–75 soon after it arrived in England. It was reproduced in large quantities as a print and became among the best known old master paintings in Britain. The identity of the man is unknown. The recorded 1800’s titles mostly suggest a military man or officer in one of the part-time militia companies. The painting is inscribed with the date of 1624 and the sitter’s age, who was 26 years old.

Up close, this painting is captivating with its powerful technique. The vivid colors, differing textures, and details of the costume are brilliantly captured in the fluid and expressive brushwork by Frans Hals.

Frans Hals, together with Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer, dominated the Golden Age of Dutch Art in the 1600s. Many of Frans Hals’s individual and group portraits can be found in museums across the world, depicting all types of people from the Dutch Golden Age.

Frans Hals

Frans Hals the Elder (1582 – 1666) was a Dutch Golden Age painter, usually of portraits, who lived and worked in Haarlem, a city in the Netherlands. He is notable for his loose painterly brushwork, and he helped introduce this lively style of painting into Dutch art. Hals played an essential role in the evolution of 17th-century group portraiture.

Dutch Golden Age

Dutch Golden Age painting refers to a period in Dutch history roughly spanning the 17th century, during and after the later part of the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) for Dutch independence. The new Dutch Republic was the most prosperous nation in Europe and led European trade, science, and art.

The northern Netherlandish provinces that made up the new state had traditionally been less critical artistic centers than cities in Flanders in the south. The upheavals and large-scale transfers of people during the war, and the break with the old monarchist and Catholic cultural traditions meant that Dutch art had to reinvent itself.

The painting of religious subjects declined sharply, but a significant new market of secular subjects developed. Dutch art of the Golden Age lacks the idealization and love of splendor typical of much Baroque work of the time, including that of neighboring Flanders. Most work, including that for which the period is best known, reflects the traditions of detailed realism inherited from Early Netherlandish painting.

Laughing Cavalier

  • Title:                         Laughing Cavalier
  • Artist:                       Frans Hals
  • Year:                         1624
  • Medium:                  Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions             83 cm × 67.3 cm (33 in × 26.5 in)
  • Museum:                  Wallace Collection

Frans Hals

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Reflections

  • His identity is unknown. What do you think is unique about him?

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“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.”
– Dutch Proverb

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Photo Credit: 1) Frans Hals (1582/1583–1666) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Frans Hals (1582/1583–1666) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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