HALS, Frans
(b. 1580, Antwerpen, d. 1666, Haarlem)

Catharina Hooft with her Nurse

Oil on canvas, 68 x 65 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

As this picture clearly shows, in his early commissioned portraits Hals adhered more closely to the old technique and to accepted conventions than in his genre works. During the first decades of his career he continued to follow the ancient idea of adjusting his style to his subject. Of course it is appropriate that the gestures and expressions of the nurse and the elegantly dressed Catherina are more refined than those used by a boisterous group celebrating carnival.

The double portrait is an excellent early example of Hals's subtle invention. The nurse, it seems, was about to present an apple to the young child when both were diverted by the approach of a spectator, to whom they appear to turn spontaneously, one of the many ingenious devices used by Hals to give the impression of a moment of life in his pictures. The colour scheme still shows the dark tonality of his early commissioned portraits, and the minute execution of the child's richly embroidered costume is set off by a delightful vivacity in the brushwork on the faces and hands.

In 1635 Catharina became the teen-age bride of extremely wealthy Cornelis de Graeff who later served repeatedly as burgomaster of Amsterdam and became the city's guiding political force as well as adviser and confidant of Johan de Witt, Holland's leading statesman after the middle of the century.