At the beginning of the 17th century, laughter almost never appeared on a painter’s canvas.

Frans Hals changed that.

“He was not a sober painter,” said Friso Lammertse, co-curator of a major exhibition of paintings by the Dutch master that opens this week at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.


“People laugh often, and that is very noticeable in the 17th century: they smile or even laugh, which was almost not done,” he added Tuesday at a preview of the exhibition.

The exhibition that debuted at the National Gallery in London last year now moves to the Dutch capital.

Despite Hals’s penchant for drinking, he was in complete control of his artistic process.

A cameraman films the Frans Hals film "The cheerful lutenist" at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

“The Merry Lute Player” by painter Frans Hals is filmed at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on February 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Michael Corda)

“It’s going too far if you say his style was because he drank a lot. It’s really an awareness of what’s going on in painting in Europe right now,” Lammertse said.

Instead, it is likely that Hals was under the influence of the Flemish masters Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyk.

“He makes this loose brushstroke… because it’s at the forefront of European art at the moment. But it’s also functional. It suggests a kind of movement. And it goes further than everyone else in aspiring to show that movement,” he said.

The fluid brushstrokes made Hals a major influence on later artists such as Vincent van Gogh and impressionists such as Édouard Manet.

Hals’ most famous work, “The Laughing Cavalier,” underlines the humor of his work. The gentleman, with his smile, his mustache upturned and his hat at a jaunty angle, crossed the English Channel from the Wallace Collection in London. It is the painting’s first trip abroad since 1870 and is one of 48 works by Hals brought together at the Rijksmuseum for the exhibition.

The Hals exhibition follows recent successful exhibitions at the Amsterdam museum showcasing the two other great names of 17th-century Dutch art: Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer.


“They all work with the same medium: oil paint on canvas, but they do something completely different with it,” said Rijksmuseum general director Taco Dibbits.

“With Rembrandt, it’s emotion and the human condition. With Vermeer, it’s stillness. And with Frans Hals, it’s movement and joy. Almost everyone laughs at Frans Hals’ paintings. And when you walk through the exhibition, you start laughing because “It’s a freedom with the brush strokes. The brush strokes really dance on the canvas.”

The exhibition opens on February 16 at the Rijksmuseum and runs until June 9. From July 12 to November 12. On the 3rd it moves to the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.

By Sam