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WHAT the broad-bottomed, solidly middle-class burghers of The Netherlands asked of their artists in the 1600s was not classic grandeur but homey detail. Proud and prosperous, they wanted their portraits to be a frank and meticulous likeness, with full attention to the fine stuffs, starched ruffs and ribboned cuffs that bespoke their newly self-made affluence. And in all subsequent ages of prosperity, business and bustle there has been an appreciative audience for Frans Hals, the artist who caught his fellow Dutchmen at their swashbuckling best, whether downing a glass of Haarlem beer or decked out in their Sunday finery.

Frans Hals, father of 14 and no mean tosspot himself, attacked the canvas with all the enthusiasm of his age, disdaining preliminary sketches in favor of a bold, direct approach with brushes loaded with paint. In later ages, the elegant powdered peruke of the 18th century looked askance at Hals’s clearly visible brush strokes. But French 19th Century Painter Edouard Manet grasped Hals’s secret of laying colors side by side, used it for his own bold compositions and made the technique a cornerstone of French impressionism.

The fact that Hals had more than an eagle eye for detail and a bold, slashing technique is shown by his Portrait of a Woman (opposite), a new acquisition of the St. Louis City Art Museum. An outstanding example of Hals’s last, or “black,” period, it was painted about 1648, when Hals was nearly 70 and had modified his earlier bravura style in favor of a deeper maturity and more finely modeled values. Hals still gave the wealthy young housewife’s finery its due, from dangling earrings to her triangular, diaphanous white fichu primly pinned with a golden ribbon bow. But in the modeling of the forehead, he has also suggested the very qualities which her husband (whose supposed portrait hangs in Kansas City’s Nelson Gallery) no doubt most prized: not proud and haughty beauty but industry neatness and the solid virtue of goodness.

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