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Frans Hals (1582/3-1666)
The Laughing Cavalier
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The Laughing Cavalier is one of the most famous portraits in the world. We still do not know his name, but the Latin inscription in the top right hand corner tells us that he was twenty-six years old when the portrait was painted.

Detail of inscription
The title itself is not original but was coined between 1875 and 1888 and is, on reflection, misleading: the man is not a cavalier, nor is he really laughing.
If it were not for the upturned moustache, do you think he would appear to be smiling?

While we may not know the man’s identity, his portrait gives us ample opportunity to form an impression of his personality and circumstances.

The painting's low vantage point makes The Laughing Cavalier peer down on us with a confident, knowing gaze. In contrast to portraits made by many previous Dutch artists, Hals' painting style, as well as composition, manages to suggest liveliness and movement: the elbow of the sitter juts out and forms a diagonal with the dramatic hat. His opulently embroidered costume implies wealth, and its detail suggests that he might be dressed for marriage.

His sleeves are adorned with several symbols of love: cupid's arrows, flaming cornucopias, lovers’ knots and bees which sting with the pain of love. Can your pupils find them?
Do you think Hals has managed to capture a glimpse of the subject's personality and spirit? What kind of person might he be? How is he feeling or what might he be thinking of?
Look at the portrait from a distance, and then look at it more closely. Notice how the style appears quite precise from afar and then becomes much more ‘free’ and spontaneous when held close to you.
Frans Hals (1582/3-1666) was born in Antwerp in Flanders, but lived and worked in Haarlem in Holland. His work was very popular amongst his contemporaries and he was particularly well known for his group-portraits. Great changes in Dutch society at the time, particularly the expansion of a wealthy middle class, meant that different types of people could afford to have their portrait made.
Frans Hals (1582/3-1666)  The Laughing Cavalier  1624
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 83 x 67.3 cm
Wallace Collection (P84)
Status and Dress
Colour and Technique
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