Frans Hals was born in Antwerp, but worked for most of his life in Haarlem. He is best known for portraits of the citizens of Haarlem, to which he brought an incisive characterisation and an unparalleled sense of animation. He also painted group portraits, depicting family groups, members of the civic guard and regents of Haarlem almshouses. These are generally regarded as his masterpieces.
Between 1601 and 1603 Hals was apprenticed to Karel van Mander, the artist, biographer and art theorist. In 1610, Hals matriculated in the painters' guild of Haarlem. It is thought that he met Rubens who visited the city in 1624. The rapidity of Hals's technique and his incisiveness can be contrasted with the studied fluidity of Rubens's works.
The type of genre scenes in which Hals specialised, many of them depicting children, inspired a number of local painters, including his pupil Judith Leyster. Much later, the dazzling virtuosity of his brushwork became an important precedent for the achievements of the 19th-century French artist, Edouard Manet.