Two paintings by the 17th-century Dutch artist, Frans Hals (1582/83-1666), preserved in the Devonshire Collections at Chatsworth, are on loan to the National Gallery in London for a major exhibition celebrating the artist's work.
The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Frans Hals is at the National Gallery until 21 January 2024 and is the first large scale exhibition devoted to the artist in more than three decades. Following its stint in London, the exhibition will travel to The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (16 February - 9 June), and the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin (12 July - 3 November).
The exhibition features fifty of Frans Hals works from museums and private collections around the world, including two from Chatsworth; Portrait of Issac Abrahamsz Massa (1622) and Portrait of a Woman Standing (1610). The latter is one of his earliest works and part of a pair commissioned to mark the sitter's marriage.
Who was Frans Hals?
While you may not be aware of the name, most will recognise Frans Hals's work, particularly 'The Laughing Cavalier' (1624) which is on loan for the first time ever from the Wallace Collection.
Frans Hals was born in Antwerp but worked and lived in Haarlem for most of his life. He was one of the most sought-after painters of his generation and is best known for his portraits of wealthy citizens, such as Dutch grain trader Issac Massa, and for his large group portraits of families and members of the civic guards.
In this short film, Bart Cornelis, Curator of Dutch and Flemish Paintings at the National Gallery, discusses Frans Hals individual style and skill, and why he is so greatly admired by modern audiences.
Paintings from Chatsworth
Included in the exhibition are two paintings from the Devonshire Collections at Chatsworth, both were previously on display in the Great Dining Room.
'Portrait of a Man', now confirmed to be the Haarlem trader Issac Massa, was originally painted as oil on canvas and was collected by either the 2nd or 3rd Duke of Devonshire, being first recorded at Chiswick Villa (now House) around 1761.
It was attached to a wooden panel at an early period in the painting's history. Due to some later attachments to this panel, it split upwards from the bottom resulting in a tear in the canvas and paint layer. The National Gallery's specialist conservation team, led by Larry Keith and Paul Ackroyd, remedied this damage and removed layers of historic varnish, which had become discoloured, revealing the detail and vibrancy of the original work.
'Portrait of Issac Massa' before and after cleaning and restoration, © Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth, images © The National Gallery, London
Portrait of a Woman Standing, whose identity is unknown, is an early work by Frans Hals and came into the Collection through the marriage of Lady Charlotte Boyle to William Cavendish, later the 4th Duke of Devonshire. It was also recorded in Chiswick Villa circa 1761 and was most likely collected by Lady Charlotte's father, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington.
The painting has now been established as one of a pair of marriage portraits. Its counterpart, Portrait of a Man Holding a Skull (1610-14) from the collection of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts (University of Birmingham), will also be on show. The portraits will be reunited at the National Gallery for the first time in several centuries.
Both portraits are painted on an oak panel, likely the same panel split in two. The National Gallery's conservation team have cleaned and removed layers of discoloured varnish from the work, revealing the detail of the sitters' clothing, lace, jewellery and complexions.
'Portrait of a Woman Standing' before and after cleaning and restoration, © Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth, images © The National Gallery, London
In this short film, Chatsworth's Head of Collections, Alice Martin, meets Larry Keith, Head of Conservation at the National Gallery, to discuss the reunion of the marriage portraits.
Main image: 'Portrait of a Woman Standing' © Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth, image © The National Gallery, London
The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Frans Hals is at the National Gallery until 21 January 2024.