Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem

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The Frans Hals Museum is a hofje and municipal museum in Haarlem, Netherlands. The museum was founded in 1862 in the newly renovated former cloister located in the back of the Haarlem city hall known as the Prinsenhof. The collection is based on the wealthy collection of the city hall itself, including more than a dozen paintings by Frans Hals, for whom it is named, but also contains other interesting Haarlem art from the 15th century up to the present day. The collection moved to the present location in 1913, and the modern collection is located in the two buildings on the town square called the Hallen, for the former occupations of the buildings, the Fish Hall and the Meat Hall. The main collection, including the Frans Hals paintings, is currently located on the Klein Heiligland, across the street from the Haarlem historical museum.

History of the building Oudemannenhuis

The classical collection is housed in the old Oudemannenhuis (Old Men's Alms House), a home for elderly men founded in 1609. The residential rooms were situated around a courtyard in the style of contemporary Haarlem Hofjes. Each of the thirty tiny little houses was inhabited by two men; to be eligible for living there the men had to be at least 60 years old, honest Haarlem residents, and single. They were required to bring their own household goods listed as a bed, a chair with a cushion, a tin chamberpot, three blankets, six good shirts and six nightcaps. They were locked in each night at eight o'clock in the summer and at seven in the winter. The residents had to make a weekly collection with a poor-box, and a statue of a man holding this poor-box can be seen in the entrance hall of the museum. The old men's home was governed by 5 regents and the paintings of these regents by Frans Hals in 1664 are on display.

Though the men's home dates from 1609, this date must refer to the building date of the impressive regent's rooms. A room on the street has a curious keystone above the door with masonic symbols denoting a mason's society and the text 'Metsselaars Proef-Kamer 1648 12/29'. In the course of four centuries various modifications to the complex were made and it is not exactly clear from the museum information which parts were for which purpose.

In 1810 the complex became an orphanage, and in 1913 it became the new location for the classical collection of the Frans Hals museum, including the paintings by Frans Hals. The meager living conditions of the typical orphan in this building in the 19th century is well documented thanks to the autobiographical stories of the Haarlem writer Jacobus van Looy.

History of the Collection

The older pieces of the museum collection, consisting of primarily religious themes, are Haarlem relics from the Reformation, when all Roman Catholic art was formally seized by the city council in 1648. Frans Hals himself worked as the first official city-paid restorer for some of these pieces. The city council then proceeded in the 17th century to rewrite Haarlem history, and purchased various large pieces to decorate the city hall, telling stories such as the legend of Damiate, or the legend of the Haarlem Shield. During this time the city hall functioned as a semi-public museum, though the term didn't even exist yet. The first signs of an official museum with a curator occurred when the Dutch Society of Science, founded in 1752, started to rent the Prinsenhof room of the city hall in 1754 for its meetings and began to furnish it as an Cabinet of curiosities. From an inventory list in the city archives it can be seen that they used as a model for their system of naming and presentation, the book Amboinsche Rariteitkamer by Georg Eberhard Rumphius. They shared the room with the Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church, that used it once every six years for its meetings. They hired a woman for the dusting and serving tea, and in 1768 they hired a man as curator, who was responsible for the entire collection and the medical Hortus garden in the yard.

The spacious room soon proved too small for the number of donated artifacts it received from its members, thanks to the increase in shipping and associated travel. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, Haarlem became a bedroom community of Amsterdam, with many wealthy bankers becoming members of the young Society. The old paintings became just a colorful backdrop for chests filled with stuffed animals and prepared specimens. In 1777 the Society moved its overflowing collection to a renovated house on the Grote Houtstraat, where the new young curator Martin van Marum would live the rest of his life. It is interesting to note that this building, situated next to the Mennonite church, was mortgaged with the Mennonite banker Pieter Teyler van der Hulst, who was not a member, but whose later testament would be the basis for the Teylers Museum, where van Marum would also become curator.

This move essentially split the collection, and the natural history half is currently in the collection of the Teylers Museum. Though the paintings and the garden remained back at city hall, 40 years after Carl Linnaeus had published his Systema Naturae no one was interested in the garden (which was set up as a living version of that book), and still fewer people were interested in the religious art. The city hall was seen as a depot of large pieces of historical importance, and the next large group of paintings to join the collection occurred when Napoleon disbanded the guilds in the Netherlands in 1794. The guilds' property reverted to the state. This is how the larger pieces that Hals painted for the guilds came into the collection. Without an official curator, the painting collection was only available to be seen by appointment with the city clerk, a situation that has remained up to the present day for the large pieces still located there, such as the whalebone from Willem Barentsz trip to Nova Zembla or the portrait of Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer.

In the mid-19th century the back cloisters were given an extra floor for additional showing space, and it was at this time that the museum opened its doors to the public via a separate entrance than the main city hall entrance. There the museum remained until splitting the collection again into a modern and a classical one, situated in three separate buildings, not including the city hall itself, which still holds many original pieces.

Collection on Display

Among the more famous paintings on display is a modern exhibit with explanatory text showing the paintings in relation to historical events and the economic history of Haarlem. One of the best stories in this wing is the fable about the Haarlem 'crusade' to Damietta. The bells in the Haarlem church on the main square are still called the 'Damiaatjes' for this reason.

Aside from paintings, the collection includes objects relating to Haarlem that have been acquired by donations. Among these are an old 'apotheek' or pharmacy which has been rebuilt in its entirety in one of the alms houses. Several stately rooms saved from torn-down Haarlem houses have been rebuilt and a collection of Haarlem silver saved from various local churches can also be seen. Spread along the corridors are beautiful Dutch tiles along the walls, accompanied by period furniture including clocks, chairs, and chests.

List of painters

Between 1605 and 1635 over 100,000 paintings were produced in Haarlem. Not all of these have survived, and most have left town, but this does say something about the artistic climate in the city. At that time art ownership in the city was 25%, a record high. More art has survived up to today from that period in Haarlem than from any other Dutch city, thanks mostly to the Schilder-boeck published by Karel van Mander there in 1604.

What follows is a list of the prominent painters through the centuries on display in the museum.

  • Jan van Scorel, 1495–1562
  • Maarten van Heemskerck, 1498–1574
  • Karel van Mander, 1548–1606
  • Hendrick Goltzius, 1558–1617
  • Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, 1562–1638
  • Floris Claesz van Dijck, 1575–1651
  • Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen, 1580–1633
  • Frans Hals, 1582–1666
  • Dirck Hals, 1591–1656
  • Willem Claeszoon Heda, 1594–1680
  • Pieter Claesz, 1597–1660
  • Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck, 1597–1662
  • Salomon de Bray, 1597–1664
  • Pieter Saenredam, 1597–1665
  • Salomon van Ruysdael, 1600–1670
  • Adriaen Brouwer, 1605–1638
  • Judith Leyster, 1609–1660
  • Jan Miense Molenaer, 1610–1668
  • Bartholomeus van der Helst, 1613–1670
  • Jan Steen, 1625–1679
  • Jan de Bray, 1627–1697
  • Jacob van Ruisdael, 1628–1682
  • Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde, 1638–1698


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