Hals’ Portrait of Joseph Coymans (1644)

Yesterday I demonstrated that Christ’s face in Van Dyck’s Resurrection from the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford is a self-portrait and explained the reason for it; now in a second painting from the Wadsworth, there is face fusion in a portrait.

Frans Hals was one of the few great portrait painters between the Renaissance and modern times whose portraits had always seemed – at least to me – relatively free from face fusion. However, in visiting the small Hals exhibition currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum (Aug. 2011), I saw the painted copy of a lost self-portrait of Hals for the first time and it looked so like the Portrait of Joseph Coymans I saw in Hartford the week before that I must discuss it. 

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Hals, Portrait of Joseph Coymans (1644) Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT

Click image to enlarge.

Face fusion is still a rarity in Hals' oeuvre and it is possible Coymans and Hals did actually resemble each other. Nevertheless, in posing Coymans Hals clearly intended to emphasize existing similarities or the ones conjured up by Hals’ brush. Despite the artist's more haggard appearance, both heads are posed in exactly the same position with distinct similarities in the small, heavily bagged eyes, the similar nose and a distinctive lower lip.

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Detail of Hals' Joseph Coymans
Right: Detail of a copy of Hals' lost Self-portrait

Click image to enlarge.

The only other visible feature of Coymans' figure beyond his head is the gloved hand painted in bravura brushstrokes, strongly suggesting that Hals was highlighting the main attribute of an artist's craft while demonstrating his hand (style) in his hand.

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Hals' Joseph Coymans

Click image to enlarge.

The three cattle heads in the crest on the wall are said to refer to the sitter’s name in Dutch: “cow-man.” No doubt they do, but they could also refer in a veiled way to the attribute of painters, St. Luke’s ox. 

See conclusion below

Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Hals' Joseph Coymans

Click image to enlarge.

The evidence that Hals used portraiture as a means to examine his own nature or other aspects of his self, as many other artists did, is still slight. Nevertheless, given the strength of the tradition, I also doubt that Hals painted the seventeenth-century equivalent of a photograph. If that is what he did, he would not have been so widely recognized as "great".

See also the entry on Hals' Portrait of a Gentleman long owned by the actress Elizabeth Taylor.

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 26 Aug 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.