The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Laughing Cavalier

Cavalier soldier Hals-1624x

“The Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals is famous for the lively and spontaneous style of portraiture created by the Dutch Golden Age Master painter. The subject is in fact not laughing, but has an enigmatic smile, amplified by his upturned moustache.

The painting conveys a sense of jesting and swagger that is the effect of the low viewpoint and masterful technique together with the sitter’s upturned moustache, twinkling eyes, pointy beard, shiny nose, pink cheeks, large black hat and confident pose. The portrait is richly coloured with a flamboyant 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 of the best known old master paintings in Britain. The identity of the man is in fact 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 (1624) and the sitter’s age (26).

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

Frans Hals - The Laughing Cavalier - Sleeve Detail

Frans Hals, together with Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer, were the painters who dominated the Golden Age of Dutch Art in the 1600’s. 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. My favourites include:

  • Gipsy Girl, 1628-30, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
  • Laughing Cavalier, 1624, Wallace Collection, London
  • Jester with a Lute, 1620–1625, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
  • The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company in 1627, Frans Hals Museum
  • The Officers of the St Adrian Militia Company in 1633, Frans Hals Museum
  • Regents of the St Elizabeth Hospital of Haarlem, 1641, Frans Hals Museum

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Essential Facts:

  • 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

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Name:                        Frans Hals
  • Born:                          c. 1582 – Antwerp, Flanders, Spanish Netherlands (Belgium)
  • Died:                          1666 (aged 83–84) – Haarlem, Dutch Republic
  • Nationality:              Dutch
  • Notable work

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“To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.” Benjamin Franklin

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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