Skip to main content

Frans Hals, Young Man holding a Skull (Vanitas)

Key facts
Full title Young Man holding a Skull (Vanitas)
Artist Frans Hals
Artist dates 1582/3 - 1666
Date made 1626-8
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 92.2 × 80.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1980
Inventory number NG6458
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Young Man holding a Skull (Vanitas)
Frans Hals

A life-size figure stands before us, holding a skull in one hand and gesticulating with the other. Although he faces us frontally he looks to his left, and it is the gesture of his right hand that focuses us: his fingers seem to project out from the canvas into our space.

This is one of Hals’s most captivating paintings, as well as an outstanding example of his bold technique of painting freely and quickly, which sets him apart from most artists of the time. There is no trace of underpainting, and the reddish ground shows through in places. In some areas, paint was applied wet-in-wet, blending some of the colours; others are modelled with very coarse hatching.

This painting is not a portrait. The skull is a symbol of mortality, a reminder of the brevity of human life. In the Netherlands depictions of boys holding skulls are rooted in a tradition going back to the early sixteenth century.

Download image
Download low-resolution image

Download a low-resolution copy of this image for personal use.

License this image

License and download a high-resolution image for reproductions up to A3 size from the National Gallery Picture Library.

License image
Download low-resolution image

This image is licensed for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons agreement.

Examples of non-commercial use are:

  • Research, private study, or for internal circulation within an educational organisation (such as a school, college or university)
  • Non-profit publications, personal websites, blogs, and social media

The image file is 800 pixels on the longest side.

As a charity, we depend upon the generosity of individuals to ensure the collection continues to engage and inspire. Help keep us free by making a donation today.

Download low-resolution image

You must agree to the Creative Commons terms and conditions to download this image.

Creative Commons Logo