He was born in Antwerp some time between 1581 and 1585, but his family fled from the Spaniards in 1585 and settled in Haarlem where he grew up and made his reputation as a painter of society portraits. There’s a museum in the town dedicated to his work, so we decided to visit while we were in Haarlem.
The museum is located in the Haarlem Oude Mannenhuis – a former Alms house built in the 17th century for elderly men of the town. It’s quite an impressive old building, with four wings surrounding a central courtyard. Unfortunately we couldn’t access the courtyard to have a proper look, but I managed to snap a photograph through one of the windows. Originally, there were thirty small houses, each inhabited by two elderly men; over 60 years old, who had to be single and “honest Haarlem residents”
Some of the rooms inside were quite grand, with antique clocks and furniture on display
The entry fee was rather steep at 20 Euros, but this was partly due to a 5 Euro supplement being applied to fund the temporary exhibition The Art of Laughter, which explored different aspects of humour in Dutch “Golden Age” paintings. There were 53 works on display by artists including Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Steen and Judith Leyster.
Courtesan by Gerard van Honthorst
Moving into the permanent exhibition, there was a large room with paintings of members of the local militia (rather like Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch)
Other paintings in the collection included the Portrait of Jacobus Zafius (1611), one of the first portraits painted by Hals
and his Self Portrait with a Lute (1663/5)
There were three major paintings on display that had recently been restored – group portraits of the female and male Regents of the very Alms houses we were in.and which have recently been restored. The female Regents looked very serious and rather grim..
The men clearly full of their own importance
The third portrait featured the Regents of the St Elizabeth’s Hospital
A documentary film was showing about the restoration, which looked very interesting. Unfortunately, the commentary was only in Dutch.
While we were looking around the Art of Laugher exhibition, I’d spotted comments scribbled on a number of the information panels accompanying the paintings, some of them quite irreverent and risqué. Initially I thought they’d been done by some irreverent visitor, but the joke was on me as the gallery had commissioned an artist to do these as part of the exhibition – it was about humour, after all! Unfortunately the snaps I took didn’t come out well.
The same artist, Nedko Solakov had also created some “Shadow Doodles” in the permanent exhibition. These were humorous little drawings and comments scribbled around the shadows cast by picture frames and other objects.
There was more to see, in particular the exhibition Rendez-Vous with Frans Hals. Unfortunately time was beginning to run out. Although our flight back to Manchester wasn’t until quite late, we had arranged to see our daughter for one last time during this trip. So we headed over to the station to catch the bus back to Amsterdam.