Portrait Realises £1.4 GBP at Christies Auction on 25 January
A portrait from the 17th century which once graced the home of Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor and authenticated as a genuine Frans Hals, goes under the hammer at Christie’s New York,today. “Portrait of a Man,” painted in the early 1630s is offered in their sale of Old Master paintings. It had hung over a fireplace and was once used to decorate her hospital room, during one of her many spells of illness. The painting is expected to fetch up to $1 million, at auction.
Seymour Slive, an Hals scholar, had written that the painting, once owned by Taylor’s art dealing father, was “doubtful” but in the school of Hals, in a 1974 catalog. The attribution was based on a black and white photo of the work. After Taylor hung it in her home in the 1950s. Nicholas Hall, head of Christie’s Old Master paintings stated; “It academically fell off the radar”. Last summer, Christie’s and Pieter Biesboer, the retired curator of Old Master paintings at the Frans Hals Museum in Holland, confirmed the work was by the master himself.
Frans Hals is one of the most renowned Haarlem painter of the Golden Age. He was the leading painter in seventeenth-century Haarlem, a Dutch city whose prosperity derived from brewing beer and producing luxury fabrics. Although Hals painted some scenes of daily life, he was primarily a portraitist. His large group portraits of the civic guards and the directors of charitable institutions, all of which remain in the Netherlands, are especially famous.Hals was born in 1580 or 1581, in Antwerp. Like many, Hals’ family fled during the Fall of Antwerp (1584-1585) from the Spanish Netherlands to Haarlem, where he lived for the remainder of his life. Hals studied under another Flemish-émigré, Karel van Mander (1548–1606), whose Mannerist influence, however, is not noticeably visible in his work. At the age of 27, he became a member of the city’s painter’s corporation, the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke, and he started to earn money as an art restorer for the city council. He worked on their large art collection that Karel van Mander had described in his book The Painting-Book (Middle Dutch: Het Schilder-Boeck), published in 1604. The most notable of these were the works of Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Jan van Scorel and Jan Mostaert, that hung in de St. Jans kerk in Haarlem. The restoration work was paid for by the city of Haarlem, since all religious art was confiscated after the iconoclasm, but the entire collection of paintings was not formally possessed by the city council until 1625, after the city fathers had decided which paintings were suitable for the city hall. The remaining art that was considered too “Roman Catholic” was sold to Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen, a fellow guild member, on the grounds that he remove it from the city. It was under these circumstances that Hals began his career in portraiture, since the market for religious themes had disappeared.Hals is best known for his portraits, mainly of wealthy citizens, like Pieter van den Broecke and Isaac Massa, whom he painted three times. He also painted large group portraits, many of which showed civil guards. He was a Baroque painter who practiced an intimate realism with a radically free approach. His pictures illustrate the various strata of society; banquets or meetings of officers, sharpshooters, guildsmen, admirals, generals, burgomasters, merchants, lawyers, and clerks, itinerant players and singers, gentlefolk, fishwives and tavern heroes.
In group portraits, such as the Archers of St. Hadrian, Hals captures each character in a different manner. The faces are not idealized and are clearly distinguishable, with their personalities revealed in a variety of poses and facial expressions. He studied under the painter and historian Karel van Mander (Hals owned some paintings by van Mander that were amongst the items sold to pay his bakery debt in 1652).
Hals was fond of daylight and silvery sheen, while Rembrandt used golden glow effects based upon artificial contrasts of low light in immeasurable gloom. Both men were painters of touch, but of touch on different keys — Rembrandt was the bass, Hals the treble. Hals seized, with rare intuition, a moment in the life of his subjects. What nature displayed in that moment he reproduced thoroughly in a delicate scale of color, and with mastery over every form of expression. He became so clever that exact tone, light and shade, and modeling were obtained with a few marked and fluid strokes of the brush. He became a popular portrait painter, and painted the wealthy of Haarlem on special occasions. 38 further paintings from the estate of the Cleopatra actress will be sold at the London auction house on February 6th and 7th.