Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Some thoughts on Franz Hals paint handling

I want to pause briefly and look at the brushwork in some Franz Hals paintings. It is this brushwork that made him so popular with the late 19th century painters. Like Velazquez he was studied as an inspiration by alla prima painters who sought to learn expressive powerful brushwork. Above is a painting called The Gypsy Girl. Hals had obviously been looking at Rembrandt before he did this and there is something Rembrandt like to both the paint handling and the subject matter.

Here is a close up of the cleavo-bodice area. Notice that strap where her jumper goes over her shoulder, that is mostly a stain on the canvas, it appears very thin. I am looking at the reproduction, I wish I had the real thing in front of me, but I don't, so I will do what I can from seeing the image on my screen.

The blouse is just the opposite, it is thickly painted, probably partly with a knife. The thinly stained passage and the thickly troweled blouse are juxtaposed, so that each calls attention to the other. There are a lot of very soft edges going on here too. Had he hardened them up the passage would not have worked as well. The soft blur makes the roughly painted passages seem more believable. His lack of detail is partly concealed by the out of focus look of the area. Notice also the play of warm and cool notes in the blouse. That gives a flickering vibration in much the same way that a later painter might with divisionist color.

Here is our gypsy girls head. Notice the edges on the left side of the jaw, and then compare them to the edges on the right side of the jaw. The contrast in edge delineation gives variety to the lines. The softened edges on the left side pushes the softly turning edges of her jaw back into space behind the more carefully delineated lips and nose, which are closer to the viewer and more important to the likeness. See how he has used square brushstrokes to build the bony structure about the eyes. Each plane in there is represented by a geometrically shaped stroke that expresses its unique shape. This was installed into the painting by Hals, not dumbly transcribed from cold observation.. He knew how the structure worked and explained it in a simplified exposition.

The Laughing Cavalier is another tour de force of brushwork. Below is a closeup of the collar and sash. Notice the handling in the sash. There is really nothing there, but it says sash when you look at it from a certain distance. That is part of why bravura handling is so entertaining, A kind of game is going on between the artist and the viewer. At one look it is just splotches and scrapes of paint and the next instant it is an utterly convincing sash. It is paint, it is a sash. Magic!

Below is a detail of the sleeve and what must be the pommel of his sword handle. Look at the rough way that and the cuff below it is painted. All of that detail in the embroidery on his sleeve is an amazing piece of work. I am guessing that did not go down in one shot, but had to be studied out in several overpaintings.


Anonymous said...

Good and valuable post. I like this analysis of technical aspects of painting. I will wait the next.

Philip Koch said...

Excellent post! The description of the paint handling in the woman's head is just perfect. As you say, Hals understood the structure he was trying to paint and "installed" the form. I think I'm going to start stealing your word "install"- it suggests both understanding and activism on the part of the artist.

Jim Gibbons said...

Great info!! I look forward to these posts. Cheers!!!

Robert J. Simone said...

Wow, the competition for male art blog readers must be getting pretty stiff....what next? A Bud Light commercial? That was nice brushwork but I never saw the blouse and strap!

Princess of Cheap said...

Great blog! Intrigued by the rough/smooth contrasts you pointed out. I have been playing with that myself lately (though not with this success!) And I have to love Hals for doing paintings of the common people and not just commissions of the wealthy. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

The Laughing Cavalier...Ah, now that was when guys knew how to dress!

T Arthur Smith said...

Frans Hals was over 20 years older than Rembrandt, although they died roughly the same time. What was their relationship like? How close were they? That'd be great to hear about.

Stapleton Kearns said...

lkirnmailru ;

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are welcome to "install" I use it a lot.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

Sex and violence help keep the blog entertaining. Tonight, violence!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Pictures of peasants and various lowlifes were a tradition in among the Dutch and their are many pictures of the less appetizing socially.I have a book with a reproduction of a 17th century barroom knife fight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

He did have a sort of sartorial splendor.

Stapleton Kearns said...

T. Arthur;
I don't know that. If I run into the information I will post it. In know that Hals virtually never traveled.