Frans Hals: The Male Portrait ★★★★★ The Wallace Collection | Sep 22, 2021 - Jan 30, 2022


This wonderful exhibition, Frans Hals: The Male Portrait, offers a dozen paintings and naturally includes The Wallace Collection's own jewel, The Laughing Cavalier. Covering five decades of Hals' long career, many of the paintings are unfamiliar to London gallerygoers. It is possible that the artist's predilection for very dark paintings may have contributed to his being virtually ignored from his death in 1666 until the1860s. An excellent commentary by the exhibition's curator, Lelia Packer, guides us around and has charmingly intuitive interjections from Grayson Perry. Hals' early works show how brilliantly he could depict lace and embroidered fabrics which become more and more impressionistic as the years pass. It is, however, the glorious painting of the faces which leaps from the canvases. From gay young beaux to debauched sots, from businessmen to soldiers – all life is here. As Perry says, this group could make brilliant dinner-party guests! The eyes glint, the mouths smile, some show haughty arrogance, others friendship. The artist goes far beyond simple paint on canvas. He truly brings us insights to the real man within. The generally plain backgrounds encourage the sitters to explode towards us. Close examination of the fabrics of the Laughing Cavalier's colourful doublet and his white lace collar shows incredible detail. Hals was said to use dozens of different shades of black; he does, but there is much more. It is absolutely fascinating to see these many wonderful paintings gathered together; their sitters stare enigmatically and yet they unashamedly reveal so many aspects of masculinity.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Image: Frans Hals, The Laughing Cavalier, 1624 © Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London.

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