This painting demonstrates Frans Hals’s gift for creating lively and animated portraits that suggest distinctive personalities. We don't know who the woman in this compelling work is, but her elegant dress and jewellery indicate that, like many of Hals’s patrons, she may have been the wife of a wealthy citizen of Haarlem.
Hals has paid great attention to the detail of her costume, which is characteristic of the period around 1640, when this picture was probably painted. She holds an expensive fan made of feathers, set in a gold mount and suspended from a gold chain. This object functions as a status symbol but also serves to give the woman’s pose movement. She pulls playfully on the chain with one hand and holds the fan’s mount delicately between the thumb and ring finger of the other – a position that could change momentarily.
This painting demonstrates Frans Hals’s gift for creating lively and animated portraits that suggest distinctive personalities, even though the sitter’s identity remains a mystery. Painted life-size in three-quarter-length, she stands against a monochrome beige-brown background and looks directly at us. Bright light falls on her even face and her hands, and she holds a fan made of feathers, set in a gold mount and suspended from a golden chain. The elegant dress and jewellery suggest that the woman, like many of Hals’s patrons, may have been the wife of a wealthy citizen of Haarlem.
Hals has paid great attention to the detail of this woman’s elegant clothing. She wears wide lace-trimmed cuffs and a large, flat, three-tiered collar decorated with a silver bow. Elaborate collars like this began to replace older types in about 1640, when this picture was probably painted. This is supported by the Portrait of a Man, a Woman and a Boy in a Room by Pieter Codde, dated 1640, in which the woman wears a very similar costume. And there is an even closer similarity to the costume depicted in Portrait of a Woman, also of 1640, by Johannes Cornelisz. Verspronck, Hals’s Haarlem colleague and possible pupil (Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede). In Verspronck’s painting, the lace collar and cuffs as well as the silver bow virtually replicate those worn by Hals’s sitter.
Fans began to appear in portraits in the 1630s, but they were in fashion in the Netherlands much earlier. The one depicted here was the most popular type and, like all kinds of fans, was expensive. But Hals didn't just use this fan to convey the sitter’s status: it serves to give the picture movement. Rather than just resting her hands on the fan, the woman pulls playfully on the gold chain and holds the mount delicately between her thumb and ring finger – a position that could change momentarily.
The way the woman’s right hand and fan are cropped and the way she seemingly crowds the frame is unusual and might suggest that the painting has been cut at the bottom edge and sides.
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