The Laughing Cavalier (1624) by Frans Hals
Interpretation of Dutch Realist Portrait Painting

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The Laughing Cavalier
By Frans Hals.
Considered to be one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

The Laughing Cavalier (1624)


Explanation of Other Dutch Baroque Paintings


Name: The Laughing Cavalier (1624)
Artist: Frans Hals (1582-1666)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Portrait Art
Movement/Style: Dutch Realism
Location: Wallace Collection, London

For an explanation of other important pictures from the Dutch Golden Age, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).

For analysis of paintings by
Dutch Realist artists
like Frans Hals, see
our educational article:
Art Evaluation.

Analysis of The Laughing Cavalier

The first great painter of the Dutch Baroque art movement, Frans Hals is best-known for his lively and spontaneous style of portraiture, as exemplified by his masterpiece The Laughing Cavalier. He is regarded as one of the best portrait artists of the 17th century, ranking alongside El Greco (1541-1614), Rubens (1577-1640), Velazquez (1599-1660) and Rembrandt (1606-69). He was noted in particular for his large-format group portraiture. Unfortunately, his chaotic private life prevented him from achieving either financial success or domestic happiness.

The Laughing Cavalier is Hals' greatest masterpiece and - together with the efforts of art critic Theophile Thore-Burger (1807-69) who had already 'rediscovered' Jan Vermeer - was instrumental in the revival of his reputation. After falling into obscurity following his death, Hals remained forgotten until 1865, when Baron Rothschild was outbid by the Marquis of Hertford for the Laughing Cavalier, during the sale of the art collection of the Comte de Pourtales-Gorgier in Paris. This triggered a reappraisal of his art, especially among Impressionist painters - such as Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Whistler - who were carried away by his loose painterly brushwork.

Sometimes described as one of the greatest portrait paintings of the Baroque, The Laughing Cavalier received its name from the Victorian critics who attended the inaugural exhibition of the Bethnal Green Museum in 1872–75, where the work was first put on display to the public. The fact is, the sitter is neither a 'cavalier', nor is he laughing. He was a 26-year old citizen of Haarlem, by the name of Tieleman Roosterman. And judging by his elaborately embroidered silk doublet, lace collar and cuffs, he was both wealthy and fashion-conscious. Indeed, a close look at the motifs on his sleeve reveals a series of hearts and arrows, along with flaming torches, lover's knots and bees - all clear symbols of love and romance. Which suggests that the painting is likely to have been an engagement portrait. He certainly seems to have a twinkle in his eye, which itself is unusual, since portrait sitters were rarely painted smiling until the late eighteenth century.



Hals was blessed with exceptional hand-eye coordination which facilitated his virtuoso painting technique. Witness, for example, his au premier coup brushwork on the ruff, his dabs of black paint on the silk sash, his delicate patternwork on the lace cuffs. All this was done at speed with rapid brushstrokes - an Impressionist's dream!

The Marquis of Hertford's art collection was duly bequeathed to his son, Sir Richard Wallace, whose widow donated it eventually to the nation as the Wallace Collection.

Explanation of Other Dutch Baroque Paintings

Here is a selected list of Dutch painting and portraiture from the 17th century.

Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632) Mauritshuis, The Hague.

The Night Watch (1642) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Portrait of Jan Six (1654) Private Collection, Amsterdam.

Syndics of the Cloth-Makers Guild (1662) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The Milkmaid (1658-60) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Woman Holding a Balance (1663) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Girl with a Red Hat (1667) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.


• For the meaning of Dutch Realist paintings, see: Homepage.

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