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A group of cheerful young people crowd around a small table in an elegant room. The fashionable clothing they wear, some of which is very colourful, differs from the sombre black costumes we can see in many Dutch portraits of the time.
Dirck Hals specialised in scenes of people feasting and enjoying themselves. Known as ‘merry companies’, these images derive from representations of biblical subjects and were often engraved with moralising verses condemning foolish and extravagant behaviour. Here, the group’s ostentatious attire, the large plate of oysters and the golden drinking cup might be signs of potentially excessive and dissolute conduct.
Dirck was the younger brother of the painter Frans Hals, who influenced him with his painterly and colourful technique. In fact, Dirck adapted the quick and lively brushwork championed by his brother to the small-scale genre pictures he exclusively painted.
In an elegant room, a group of cheerful young people crowd around a table that bears a large plate of oysters, a loaf of bread and a single knife. They wear fashionable clothing, some of which is very colourful – it differs from the sombre black costumes depicted in many Dutch portraits of the time.
The young man sitting at the right is the only person with a drink; he holds the base of a golden drinking cup delicately with one hand. The waiter standing at the right notes down what has been consumed – perhaps he has already cleared away the dishes and glasses. The crunched up tablecloth also implies that the meal is finished. One gentleman leans nonchalantly on the back of a chair, as if he has just joined the party, while a sullen looking dog lies next to his feet, watching events unfold. A large map hangs on the wall to the left, a framed painting to the right; between them, an open door gives a view of a landscape with large trees.
Dirck Hals specialised in this kind of scenes of groups of people enjoying themselves. Known as ‘merry companies’, the scenes derive from representations of biblical stories that involved excessive feasts. They were often engraved with moralising verses, which condemned foolish and extravagant behaviour, and it’s likely that at least some contemporary viewers would have understood the picture in that sense. The partly visible painting in the background probably shows Christ being arrested by Roman soldiers, an episode that would ultimately lead to the Crucifixion. While religious paintings were no longer commissioned to hang in churches in the Protestant Dutch Republic, they still decorated the houses of the upper and middle classes, and this was a popular subject. The inclusion of this scene within the painting – a device that Hals often used – might hint at an underlying moralising message. Likewise, the withering flowers littering the floor display the group’s carelessness and wastefulness (although they might also be seen as a reminder of the transience of life).
Dirck was the younger brother of Frans Hals, who influenced him with his painterly and colourful technique. In fact, Dirck adapted the quick and lively brushwork championed by his brother to his small-scale genre paintings. Just like in his brother’s large-scale works, here we find areas where Dirck worked wet-in-wet or made use of the beige ground coming through. He prepared figures in drawings and oil sketches that he would then use, with little alteration, as the basis for figures in his paintings, sometimes even more than once.
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