Haarlem’s biggest draw, the Frans Hals Museum, is a five-minute stroll south of the Grote Markt, housed in the almshouse complex where the aged Hals lived out his last destitute years. The collection comprises a handful of prime works by Hals along with a small but eclectic sample of Dutch paintings from the fifteenth century onwards, all immaculately presented and labelled in English and Dutch. There’s also a small separate section consisting of a life-size replica of a seventeenth-century Haarlem street.

Frans Hals paintings

The Hals paintings begin in earnest in Room 14 with a set of five “Civic Guard” portraits. For a time, Hals himself was a member of the Company of St George, and in the Officers of the Militia Company of St George he appears in the top left-hand corner – one of his few self-portraits. See also Hals’s Haarlem contemporary Johannes Verspronck’s (1600–62) Regentesses of the Holy Ghost Orphanage – one of the most accomplished pictures in the gallery, which echoes Hals’s own Regents of St Elizabeth Gasthuis, a serious but benign work of 1641. Perhaps the museum’s most valuable and impressive works, however, are Hal’s famous twin portraits, Regents and Regentesses of the Oudemannenhuis, which depicts the people who ran the almshouse when Hals was there – a collection of cold, self-satisfied faces staring out of the gloom, the women reproachful, the men only marginally more affable. There are those who claim Hals had lost his touch by the time he painted these pictures, yet their sinister, almost ghostly, power suggests quite the opposite.

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