Frans Hals was the great 17th-century portraitist of the Dutch upper class of Haarlem in Holland where he spent practically all his life (except for a brief stay to Antwerp in 1616). Hals is regarded as one of the greatest masters of portraiture. He evolved a technique that was close to impressionism, achieving an air of complete spontaneity. His use of rapid, spontaneous brushstrokes demonstrates his ability to present the immediacy of a sketch.
We do not know what Frans Hals did in the early part of his career. There is no written biography of his life or his work as an artist. All we know is that this artist around 1610 joined the Guild of St Luke of Haarlem, an organization, with given authority to register artists as masters. Shortly afterward he married his first wife, Annetje Harmensdochter Abeeland and bore him two children before her death in 1615. Two years later, Hals married Lysbeth Reyniers, who was to survive her husband by some nine years. In all, Hals had 10 children, and 5 of his 8 sons became painters. None, however, was of note.
Frans Hals earliest works were portrayed as jovial in mood but by the time it reached Halís middle age that joyfulness soon disappeared and was replaced by a somber attitude Hals demonstrates his ability to catch each man in a characteristic pose thus giving an air of informality and naturalness. These portraits seem to reveal a sense of foreboding. The period from 1630 to 1650 was Hals's most productive. He was very popular among the serious citizens of Haarlem's middle class, and during this time he painted more than 100 single portraits and 6 group and family portraits.
Frans Hals lived to be very old (died in 1666) and it is in the paintings of his old age that his genius for portraying human character is fully revealed. The last years of his life were difficult materially, and he was harassed by discouraging family problems. Although he continued to work steadily, near the end of his life, he was only granted a small pension by the city. Still he brought up and supported a family of ten children with success till 1652, when forced to sell his pictures and his household items to a merchant to whom he was indebted for bread and money. This brought him to absolute poverty.
We may admire the spirit which enabled him to produce some of his most striking works in his unhappy circumstances.