With Apologies to Frans Hals

Among the many artists whose works I’ve studied recently as I’ve explored my Dutch heritage is Frans Hals, also known as Frans Hals the Elder. He was a painter of the Dutch Golden Age who lived and worked in the town of Haarlem.

He is known for his loose painterly brushwork, and helping introduce a lively style of painting to Dutch art. Hals played an important role in the evolution of 17th-century group portraiture. — Wikipedia

Hals is also playing an important role in the evolution of my portrait painting — although, trust me, I won’t be attempting any group portraits for a long time, if ever.

Imitation is a form of flattery, as we all know, and artists are encouraged to copy the works of the great masters. And while recently listening to a lecture about the Dutch masters — and specifically about Hals and his portrait painting — I saw this fellow and said “I want to paint him.”

Portrait of a Man
Claes Duyst van Voorhout – Painted 1638 by Frans Hals

All right, let’s get real here. No way could I really paint this man with his messy hair, his elaborate lace collar, the ribbon of his belt, and his somewhat cocky attitude. I wasn’t going to let that fact stop me, though.

What I was interested in was his face. I wanted to play with a few different skin tones to see if I could get even a slight likeness to Meneer van Voorhout, who was a brewer in 17th-century Haarlem. It’s been speculated that his portrait was painted to hang in the brewery so that patrons would know who the owner was and what he looked like.

Background for PortraitMy first step in this far-beyond-my-abilities portrait project was to crop the image of the Frans Hals painting so that I could focus only on the man’s face. Next I used colors I had on my palette after one morning’s practice to paint a rich mottled green background.

This is done on a small canvas panel — only 5 x 7. I think painting facial features would probably be much easier if I worked on a larger canvas, but this little panel was sitting there, so I decided to use it for my first attempt. It’s a way of really, really pushing myself.

My next portrait — yes, there will be more — will be on a slightly larger canvas.

All the while, I was thinking of Claes Duyst van Voorhout, wondering what he would think if someone had told him — back in 1638 — that over 350 years later some old woman who was learning to paint would choose him as a subject. I think he would have been amused, don’t you?

Fortunately, van Voorhout doesn’t have to see the result of my attempt. Neither does Frans Hals. He probably would not be so amused by my painting. Or, maybe he would be. Maybe he’d have quite a good laugh over it.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. My plan, you see, was to try drawing my image on the painted canvas with a white charcoal pencil. I’m not sure how well that would have worked because, for some reason, white charcoal pencils are the one thing I always seem to lose. I used to keep a few extras stashed away in the top drawer of the dresser, but no luck. I must have used — and lost — the last one.

First Drawing (2)I searched a few other places, decided I was simply wasting time, and moved on to Plan B — drawing with thin white paint and a very small paintbrush.

It wasn’t easy, but I was able to draw the basic outline.

About this time I began to realize again how difficult it would be for me to draw and paint any realistic facial features, but mostly I wanted to work on using different skin tones and making a few variations. As with the other portraits I’ve done, the bar was set low: if the result looked human, I’d be happy.

So, yeah, I’m pleased with this first attempt at copying a portrait painted by one of the greatest Dutch masters of the Golden Age. There’s even a slight resemblance there to the Haarlem brewer — or is that only my imagination?

Voorhout by JLK (2)
With Apologies to Frans Hals

Remember, this is my year of imagination, and I’m letting it carry me off in lots of new directions. I hope you’ll come along with me. The artwork I share won’t be great, but if nothing else, it should be amusing.

And the next one will be better. Bigger. Better. I’m having fun, so watch out.



      1. 🙂 Thanks for the vote of confidence. I was pleased that I saw even a slight resemblance. As I wrote, the bar was set low. Still, I know with practice I’ll be able to improve, and I’m excited by the thought of doing more portraits just to see what I can accomplish. I really am having fun with this.


      2. I have never tried doing portraits. At the moment I am currently working on a landscape painting on a 40X50CM canvas board which is my first big painting….well I consider it to be big. Tomorrow I will add snow on the mountains, some trees and bushes. I also need to paint in a stone church….I am not experienced at doing buildings plus stone features. The painting is for me for my wall so I only need to please myself.

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      3. Sounds like a lovely painting project. Adding snow to a scene can always be exciting, I think. It can give such a sense of mood and atmosphere to a painting.


  1. Great beginnings Judith. Hals is once of my most favourite painters and he is too much overshadowed by the other Dutch masters. He’s a great choice for developing painting techniques, the brushstrokes are so confident and strong. And even though they’re wearing those large doiley-like frills and floppy hats they do look like people you could easily go down the pub with in any century! Good luck with the project.

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    1. Thanks, Meegan. I love the “painterly” qualities of Frans Hals, and I’m looking forward to doing another portrait soon, one that’s slightly larger. I do plan to spend a little more time drawing the image on my canvas. It’s really challenging for me, but it’s helping me learn to make finer brushstrokes, to look more closely at slight variations in color, and to give more thought to the lights and shadows. Eventually those things will show up more clearly in all my paintings, I hope.


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