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Dutch Painting

Woman Tearing a Letter

Dirck Hals
Oil on panel, 45 x 55 cm.
Mittelrheinisches Landesmuseum, Mainz
Woman Tearing a Letter, Dirck Hals

Dirck HALS
Haarlem 1591–1656 Haarlem

The family of Dirck and his eldest brother, the famous portrait painter Frans Hals, emigrated from Antwerp after it fell to the Spanish in 1585. The first evidence of their presence in Haarlem was Dirck's baptism there on March 19, 1591. Their father was a cloth dresser. Dirck may have learned the rudiments of painting from Frans, who became a master in the guild in 1610. Their middle brother Joost, whose work is unidentified, also was recorded as a painter. Dirck, like Frans, lived most of his life in Haarlem; however, in 1641–1643 and 1648 (and probably during the intervening years) he was a resident of Leiden. Dirck was a member of the corporalship of the Saint George's civic guard in Haarlem from 1618 to 1624. Frans was also a member of the guard, and both brothers belonged to the rhetorician's society known as the De Wijngaertranken (The Ville Tendrils). In 1620 or 1621 Dirck married Agnieta Jansdr. in Haarlem, and they subsequently baptized seven children in the Reformed Church. The engraver Jan van deVelde (1593–1641) was a friend; he attended the baptism of one of Dirck's children and entered a sworn testimony that Dirck was owed twenty-four guilders in "wages" by another engraver, Willem Outgertsz. Ackersloot. This suggests that Dirck was employed by other artists before he became a master in the Haarlem guild in 1627. The following year, Samuel Ampzing made flattering reference to both Hals brothers in his chronicle of the city of Haarlem. In 1629 Dirck acquired paintings at a local auction run by the painter Frans Pietersz. de Grebber (1572–1649), which required surety promised by Frans. A lucrative sideline for artists during this period was dealing in paintings; Dirck organized two painting auctions, in 1634 (with the printmaker Cornelis van Kittensteyn) and in 1635 (with the local still life painter Franchois Elout). Among the works offered were paintings by Dirck and Frans Hals, as well as by Salomon van Ruysdael, Jan van Goyen, and Judith Leyster. Dirck also was associated with the Amsterdam art dealer and painter Pieter Jansz. van den Bosch and collected the proceeds from the latter's auctions. He moved to Leiden in 1641, but the following; June his possessions were confiscated far nonpayment of the rent. He nonetheless was probably still in the city in 1649 when he was recorded as living on the Noordeinde. On that occasion his goods were again confiscated, suggesting that Dirck had frequent financial problems. When he died in May 1656, his family was not required to pay burial tax to the city of Leiden, indicating that he had moved back to Haarlem, probably seven years earlier.

Hals was a painter of genre scenes usually on a small scale and often of merry company or domestic subjects. His works were commended by Samuel Ampzing in 1628 (Beschrijvinge ende Lof der Stad Haerlem) for his "neat little figures," and he also won the praise of his contemporary T. Scrivelius (Harlemius, Gfte om beter te seggen, De eerste stichtinghe der Stadt Haerlem [Haarlem, 1648]) for being "very fine and pure in small pieces and figures." Notable influences on Hals's style were the works ofWillem Buytewech (1591–1624) and Esaias van de Velde (1587–1630). In the late 1620s Dirck collaborated with the architectural painter Dirck van Delen (1605–1671), far whom he supplied the figures. Dirck's san, Anthonie (1621–1691), was a painter of portraits and genre scenes in Amsterdam. Several engravers reproduced Dirck's works, including Cornelis van Kittensteyn, Salomon Savery, and Gillis van Scheyndal.

Peter Sutton, Lover Letters: Dutch Genre Painting in the Age of Vermeer, p. 79.

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