This is the fourth in a series of favorite paintings from the National Gallery in Washington: my favorite Frans Hals, ever.
The sitter is confident, charming, debonair: he could give lessons on how to tilt a hat at a rakish angle. But like Sir Percival Blakeney, Willem Coymans is more than a fop. Willem was a member of one of the prominent merchant families in Amsterdam and Haarlem, at a period when the Netherlands was the foremost commercial power in Europe. The Dutch Golden Age (roughly the 17th century) was spurred by an influx of highly skilled workers fleeing religious persecution elsewhere in Europe, by the availability of cheap energy (windmills!), by a relatively free political system, and by the energetic efforts of manufacturers, merchants and traders such as the Coymans family. The rising wealth of the Coymans and other members of the upper-middle class created the demand and the money for the works of artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals. It’s no accident that the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam was established in this century. (See Shorto’s Island at the Center of the World for a brief summary of the Dutch activities and attitudes at this period.)
What I’ll look for next time
The colors. This reproduction (taken from the National Gallery’s site) looks too dark: Hals’s whites are usually blindingly white, not grayish. And, of course, the brushstrokes: Hals is known for his bravura brushstrokes.