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The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Frans Hals at the National Gallery is largest in 30 years

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Smile! The National Gallery’s Frans Hals exhibition is one of the biggest blockbusters in London right now.

It's a landmark show that is pulling in thousands of visitors in part because The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Frans Hals is the largest exhibition devoted to the work of the Dutch artist for more than thirty years.

In short, it's a full-scale survey of the 17th-century portrait painter, where visitors come face-to-face with dozens of exceptional paintings on loan from around the world. They all show the effervescence and life captured by Hals' in his paintings completed 400 years ago.

Oh, and there's a stunning accompanying catalogue too for those who can't make it to London.

The Laughing Cavalier from the Wallace Collection

Without a doubt, the highlight of the exhibition is Frans Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier which is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It has travelled to the Gallery in Trafalgar Square from its home in the Wallace Collection, in central London, where it has been on display since the 1870s. This is the very first time it has been seen in any other building in nearly 150 years.

The painting — dating from 1624 — is on loan following the Wallace Collection’s landmark decision in 2019 to lend its works on a temporary basis, marking a change of policy that had been in place throughout the museum's 120-year history.

The Laughing Cavalier is one of the finest examples of Hals' work. Even in his own lifetime, Hals was recognised for his exceptionally lively characterisation of people.

He was one of very few artists throughout the history of Western painting who successfully managed to paint people smiling and laughing, a challenge shunned by most painters because it was so difficult.

Painting of a man in a hat looking at the view with the hint of a smile
Frans Hals The Laughing Cavalier, 1624 © Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London

In total, visitors to the National Gallery see some fifty of the artist’s greatest paintings drawn from museums and private collections from around the world. There are major loans from both the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and the Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, as the show has been organised in partnership with the two famous art institutions. It will also tour to the two venues in 2024.

A number of works come from other Dutch collections including Isaac Abrahamsz Massa, 1626 (from the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto); Portrait of Pieter Dircksz. Tjarck, about 1635, (from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California); The Rommel-Pot Player, about 1620 (from the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas); and Portrait of Tieleman Roosterman, 1634 (from the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio.)

The exhibition follows a largely chronological display, with separate sections for genre paintings and small portraits, which allows space to display Hals’s unsurpassed group portraits —on loan from the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem — which have rarely left the city since they were painted some four centuries ago.

A man playing a lute, looking off to the side of the canvas
Frans Hals The Lute Player, about 1623 © Musée du Louvre, Paris

The first section of the exhibition is devoted to Hals’s Early Work which focuses on his extraordinary technique and the sense of living presence it created in his masterpieces.

In Portraiture into Art, the exhibition explores how Hals’s fresh, energetic approach allowed him to transform portraiture from a merely functional genre into an expressive, imaginative art form.

Invented Characters includes scenes of everyday life that Hals painted mainly in the 1620s and 1630s.

Family Ties highlights the subtlety and warmth with which Hals captured the relationships between his sitters.

And Up Close shows how Hals could adapt his expressive brushwork to smaller works

The final room — Late Work — celebrates the unprecedented technical freedom of Hals's final decades. It also points to his artistic legacy, from being a feted (though impoverished) artistic son of Haarlem, to his rediscovery in France in the 19th-century by Impressionist artists and their circle.

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Bart Cornelis, Curator of the exhibition at the National Gallery, said that no museum in three decades had “attempted to present a survey of [Hals’] work, which means that no one under the age of 40 has been able to acquaint themselves, through a comprehensive overview, with the genius of one of the greatest portrait painters of all time.”

A female visitor stands with her back to the viewer reading the label to the painting which can be seen to the right
Visitor reads the label of the Laughing Cavalier. © maxwell museums

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery has called Hals a “brilliant, daring and inventive contemporary of Rembrandt,” and an artist “whose lively portraits and virtuoso brushwork have fascinated generations of artists.”

How much are Frans Hals exhibition tickets?

Tickets to the Frans Hals exhibition at the National Gallery are £22 for adults. Concessions are £20, while under 18s and gallery members go free.

If this feels a little steep, then good news. The Gallery’s Pay What You Wish scheme — launched as a response to the cost-of-living crisis — will extend to this exhibition too. That means that if you book to visit on Friday evenings during the run, you can get tickets for as little as £1.

And for those who want to bring the joy and warmth of Hals work into your home, you can order this beautifully illustrated accompanying book which offers a fresh appraisal of Frans Hals, and features essays covering all the important aspects of his oeuvre. Buy your Frans Hals exhibition book here.

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Frans Hals is at the National Gallery in London from 30 September 2023 until 21 January 2024.

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