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The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
Some 20 to 25 years elapsed between Frans Hals'(c 1582/1583-1666) A Young Man in a Large Hat (JAMA cover,
October 25, 2000) and Portrait of a Man
(cover ). It could have been a lifetime.
The adolescent, care-free, even silly youth is now a sober, thoughtful, middle-aged
man . The cavalier has become the puritan. But it was not only dress that had
changed so radically in a generation: the times had also changed. The Peace
of Westphalia had just ended a war that had been waging on the Continent for
some 30 years. The greatly reduced German population now began to slowly recover.
In the Spanish Netherlands, the Treaty of Munster finally made official the
Dutch Republic and its independence from Spain. In England, Oliver Cromwell
was on the horizon and the hapless Charles was about to be executed.
Nor had Hals escaped time. In his mid-40s at the time of the first painting,
he was now in his mid-60s, well beyond the life expectancy of that time, closer
to the biblical allotment of three score and ten. On the other hand, Hals'
talent was undiminished. Indeed, it was still unfolding; he would go on painting
for another two decades, until his death in Haarlem at the age of 84. Some
of his best portraits belong to those years. His earlier "merry" character
studies are now more sober studies of paint and its possibilities. The works
are less decorative, more searching; concentrating on form and mass and brushwork,
they rely on just a few colors applied to a flat surface to create a reality
beyond the surface. These are the qualities that two centuries later would
inspire Édouard Manet and his followers and help to usher painting
into its modern period.
The identity of the middle-aged sitter, like that of the adolescent
boy, remains unknown, although it has been suggested that the boy is Harmen
at age 15, one of the five sons Hals trained to be painters. Could this be
Harmen in his mid-to-late 30s? It is tempting to speculate. Certainly he has
the same stringy hair and the same, though more mature, mustache. Also, the
hand over the heart is a traditional pose for painters. But the decisive question
is, does the youth, like the middle-aged man, also have a squint, or does
his left eye only seem to deviate? It is difficult to determine. Perhaps it
is just the way Hals handled his brush or the way the light fell at that moment.
We are left wondering, and Hals, almost three and a half centuries after his
death, remains alive, still posing questions that need to be answered.
Frans Hals(1582/1583-1666),Portrait of a Man,
1648/1650, Dutch. Oil on canvas. 63.5×53.5cm.
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington,
DC (http://www.nga.gov); Widener Collection
(Portrait of a Man) and the Andrew W. Mellon Collection (A Young Man in a Large Hat).
Southgate MT. Portrait of a Man. JAMA. 2000;284(20):2563. doi:10.1001/jama.284.20.2563
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