Frans Hals, Officers of the St. George Civic Guard of Haarlem, 1627, oil on canvas, 70½” x 101½”, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Frans Hals: Party People

It’s spring break in Texas and thousands of university students will flock to places like South Padre Island and Ft. Lauderdale with a keg in the back of the car and a keen appetite for a good time, but these kids have nothing on the militia companies from seventeenth-century Holland.  The militia companies, one of which is pictured here by Dutch artist Frans Hals, were groups of young, handsome bachelors who lived in large cities like Haarlem and Amsterdam during the Dutch Golden Age.  And yes, they gathered together to run through drills with weaponry, but they also partied – for days on end.  In fact, at one point, the city of Haarlem passed a law that prevented their parties from lasting more than three days.  Someone had to put his foot down.

Frans Hals painted many of these civic guards, several times over, possibly because his open and lively painting style captured the extroverted nature of these men.  Hals is known for his rapid brushwork that appears a tangle of brushstrokes at close inspection but somehow comes together when one stands back from his canvases.  He set these men at one of their notorious banquets and arranged them around a table, some sitting and others standing, in a visually exciting way.  A few men hold red and white striped standards to create diagonals that slash through the background.  The men look in many directions, as they would in the real world at a real party.  A few of them hold our gaze, engaging us with the group, while one holds an empty glass toward us and tips it over to show us that he finished yet another drink.

Other paintings by Frans Hals

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