Richelieu wing – 2nd floor – Holland, first half of the 17th century – Room 30
This painting should be called more exactly the Girl at the market; it is, in fact, the portrait of a fish merchant from Haarlem, who very often posed in the workshop of Hals. The young woman is represented halfway. She is dressed in a red dress whose only the waist and the straps that hold on her shoulders are visibles. The wide open shirt shows the chest and part of the breasts. The face, framed by a hair very opulent but unkempt, is of a beautiful peasant vulgarity who does not lack charm; the healthy joviality of the girls of the people blossoms magnificently in a laugh that discovers the teeth, animates the cheeks, bridles the eyes. There was often debated the meaning of this smile, where some wanted to see cruelty or cynicism. To look at it attentively, one sees there only the joy of living in a healthy and beautiful creature, an expression translated by the painter in a superior way.
Frans Hals was the painter of Holland, joyful and alive. “After Rembrandt, Frans Hals! The radiant cheerfulness after the deepest melancholy; laughter after pain … Here we are in full happy and triumphant Holland, and the joy of triumph flourishes in the work of the master of Haarlem. As the spring sky unfolds over the flowery countryside of his hometown … “(Armand Dayot).
Although he painted many portraits of grave personages, meetings of brotherhoods or societies, he was fond of painting the rubicund faces of drinkers, the open faces of hostel servants. The models he did not miss in the estaminets where he attended, because he was himself a great drinker and often his students had to bring him back, in the evening, into complete intoxication.
But such was his ease of work that, in spite of the disruptions of his life, he left a considerable work. Frans Hals belongs to this glorious family of painters from West Flanders, which includes Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens, Teniers; these big names are evocative of powerful color, force, realism, human observation. Hals equals them by the intensity of life he gives to his characters and by the overflowing vivacity with which he animates them. For its ease, it was proverbial and could be compared to that of Rubens. He was performing, when he was alive, a portrait in a few hours.
Van Dyck, having come from England to Flanders, wished to see Frans Hals, whose works he had appreciated, and of which he had heard extolling the skill of execution. He presented himself at the artist; they had to go and get him from the cabaret. Very unhappy to be disturbed, Hals does not hurry; he does not know the name of the visitor. When he arrives, Van Dyck asks to be portrayed; Hals refuses at first, and the promise of a large sum must not be less to decide it. In a very bad mood, he takes an old canvas, brushes and, two hours later, he gives his model a wonderful portrait of execution and resemblance. Van Dyck thanks, pays the agreed sum, then asks the artist if he could in turn try to give him his portrait. Hals was surprised at the offer, and more surprised when he saw his host working. He guessed then:
“But who the hell are you? Antoine Van Dyck, certainly!“
Almost always his students brought drunk Frans Hals back, and slept him. Once in his bed, the painter mumbled a prayer that ended invariably with these words: “My God, receive me in Heaven!” His students, led by Brauwer, resolved to make a joke. They drilled four holes on the ceiling, through which ropes were lowered and fastened to the four feet of the bed. When Frans Hals, drunk as usual, uttered his usual phrase, the bed, pulled by invisible hands, left the floor and climbed to the ceiling. Terrified to see his prayer answered the painter hastened to shout: “Not yet, Lord, not yet!”
But with age, his addiction to drink only grows; his stations at the tavern become more prolonged. His talent does not diminish but his production slows down. The inconvenience comes, then the misery. He owes it to everyone. He pays his butcher offering him one of his finest masterpieces: The happy trio. As he remained proud, charities hide the charity they give him by ordering two paintings he runs, without any brush failure, at the age of eighty-four.
We do not know anything about his last years and his death. He was buried in the choir of the Groote Keerke of St. Bavo. For mausoleum, a simple tombstone, with the letters F. H.
His widow survived him for a few years, in extreme poverty. She obtained from the city, as aid, an alms of fourteen sous a week.
The Gypsy Girl (sometime called Malle Babbe) was sold 301 pounds, in 1782, the sale Menars. She later moved into the La Caze collection. She appears today in the Louvre in the Dutch room, behind the great hall of the Rubens.
Height: 0.58 – Width: 0.52 – Figure in full-size bust.