In the 1580s, the Dutch provinces declared their independence from the Spanish Crown, establishing the Dutch Republic. The Dutch state rapidly grew into one of the major seafaring and economic powers in Europe, with outposts as far away as New Amsterdam, the site of modern-day New York. During this period, seventeenth-century painters worked mainly for the mercantile bourgeoisie based in wealthy cities such as Amsterdam and Haarlem. While this period of unparalleled cultural and economic growth has long been known as the “Dutch Golden Age,” much of the wealth of Dutch citizens was, in fact, the result of colonial exploitation and slavery.
Frans Hals was among the most celebrated portraitists of the time in the Low Countries. He worked in Haarlem all his life, portraying the mercantile class of the city in individual and large group portraits. Henry Clay Frick had a particular predilection for likenesses of these prosperous businessmen, who were invariably dressed in fashionable black clothes. This room brings together three portraits by the artist.
Hals’s ruddy burghers are juxtaposed here with the lyrical images of the Dutch countryside by Salomon van Ruysdael and Meindert Hobbema, two artists who focused on picturesque buildings set in windswept landscapes against cloudy skies—images that extolled the unassuming beauty of their homeland. As a Dutch poet of the time wrote: “Parnassus is too far, here is no Helicon—only dunes, woods, and brooks, a sky, the sun."