DIRCK HALS (Haarlem 1591 – Haarlem 1656)
An Elegant Company Playing Music in an Interior
oil on panel
13 ¾ x 20 inches (35 x 51 cm.)
Unidentified Collector’s Seal on the reverse
Galerie Internationale, The Hague, 1929/30
Private collection, Massachusetts
B. Nehlsen-Marten, Dirck Hals 1591-1656. Oeuvre und Entwicklung eines
Haarlemer Genremalers, Weimar, 2003, p. 293, cat. no. 220
Dirck Hals was born in Haarlem, where he was baptised on March 19, 1591. His elder brothers Joost and Frans Hals, the famous portraitist, were born in Antwerp. Their parents brought the family to Haarlem shortly before Dirck’s birth. Perhaps Dirck Hals was first trained as an artist by his elder brothers; Joost Hals was recorded as a painter (but no work by him is known today) and Frans Hals joined the Haarlem guild in 1610. Apart from several years spent in Leiden (probably the entire period of 1641-1648), Dirck Hals lived and worked in his native town of Haarlem. Like his brother Frans he served in the Civic Guard there and was a member of the chamber of rhetoric, up to about 1624. Dirck married Agniesje Jansdr. in 1620 or 21 and during the years between their marriage and 1635, seven children were baptised. Although dated works by Dirck Hals are known from 1619 until 1654, he only joined the Haarlem painters’ guild in 1627. He was buried in Haarlem on May 17, 1656.
Dirck Hals devoted himself to the painting of merry companies, presented both indoors and outdoors. His early paintings were strongly influenced by the works of such pioneers in the field as Willem Buytewech (1592-1624), from whom he may have received some of his tuition, and Esaias van de Velde (1587-1630). Dirck must have attentively studied their paintings of elegantly dressed companies of young men and women making merry in a garden, often around a well provided table. From his early career up to about 1625 at least twenty-five of his painting of this subject are known. By the late 1610s, both Buytewech and Van de Velde had left Haarlem, leaving the market to Dirck Hals. Buytewech’s work must also have inspired Hals to start painting merry companies in interiors, zooming in closely on the figures, as opposed to the more spacious settings outdoors. He produced many such works throughout his lifetime, from the first half of the 1620s onwards.
The painting presented here firmly belongs within this group. In terms of the restricted number of figures, it is close to Buytewech’s examples, but the dress of the figures and the rather subdued palette suggest that this must be a somewhat later work. The collars indicate a date of about 1640 and the less abundant colouring is fully in keeping with the tendency towards a certain degree of monochromy during the 1630s in many areas of painting – landscape, still life, portraiture – to which genre painting was also subjected.
The theme of a musical company as represented here derives straight from the early genre scenes, the merry companies outdoors, which were also called ‘gardens of love’. The two young couples playing music in this image no doubt refers directly to issues of love. Beside the similar frivolity of playing music and of making love, it is also essential for the participants to be attuned to each other and attain harmony, both in music and in love.
The flute player in this painting is a recurring figure in Dirck Hals’s genre scenes. Among others, he features – in somewhat different attire – in several more elaborate, and probably slightly earlier genre interiors. Among them is a painting in the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig (no. 1015) and a work from 1637 that was last seen in a Paris auction in 1907.
Fred G. Meijer