It is impossible to imagine our understanding of Frans Hals without Seymour Slive’s monumental contributions. His three-volume study published in 1970 and 1974 remains the most important catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work. The catalogue that Slive edited of the 1989 monographic exhibition in Haarlem, London, and Washington crucially updated and expanded the earlier study by publishing and translating all known documents relating to the artist and by initiating technical studies of his paintings. Of course, Slive also gave central place to Hals in his contribution to the Pelican History of Art series, cementing his image of the artist for more general readers and students for generations. The volume under review here is Slive’s final, magisterial account of the great master from Haarlem.
The new Phaidon publication is a revised second edition of the first two volumes of the 1970 catalogue – the text and plate volumes – combined into a single, massive tome. The page count comes in at 399, but these are tightly spaced, three column pages. Organized chronologically, readers immerse themselves in Hals’s career and art, guided by Slive’s eloquent and insightful writing. Every page bristles with an energy and enthusiasm akin to that found in Hals’s bravura brushstrokes.
In the preface, Slive categorizes the book as an “extensively revised second edition” in which he could incorporate later scholarship and “record without apology matters about which I have changed my mind” (9). One finds these revisions sprinkled throughout the text. The new edition gives fuller attention to the series of Evangelists since the full suite has come to light, offers more extended treatment of the Stockholm and Barnes portraits following Frans Grijzenhout’s research, and dives deeper into the chronology and documentation of the latest of Hals’s paintings to list but three amendments.
There are moments when the new additions are not fully integrated into the text as a whole. For example, Slive injects new consideration of how two of Hals’s sitters, Tieleman Roosterman and Willem van Heythuysen, were prominent art collectors (171). Other sitters, like Claes Duyst van Voorhout, also maintained significant collections of paintings, as Pieter Biesboer has shown. These newly unearthed discoveries suggest that at least some of his sitters possessed wealth and artistic appreciation, or at least aspirations to acquire both. But they are a bit at odds with Slive’s characterizations of Hals as a bourgeois artist who worked for humble patrons. Likewise, Slive acknowledges more deeply than he had previously the impact of Rubens’s coloring on Hals’s portraiture in the 1610s, including before the Dutch artist’s documented trip to Antwerp in 1616 (28). Earlier in the text, however, Slive repeated his 1970 conclusion that, “In the end, however, the direction of Hals’s art differed fundamentally from the one taken by the great Flemish masters whose work was so often in the service of various Counter Reformation spiritual movements that flourished in the South Netherlands during the decades of their activity” (17). In an influential review of Slive’s early volumes (Simiolus, 10/2 [1978-79]: 115-123), Ben Broos noted how Slive thoroughly examined Hals but considered the artist in isolation. In the revised edition there are a few more linkages to the works of other artists but Broos’s assessment remains largely true. Slive pitts Hals against Rembrandt only tangentially. Though not the first, Slive also compares Hals, briefly, to Bernini. Indeed, Slive’s overall image of the artist as a genius operating outside the concerns of the majority of his contemporaries remains largely unchanged.
The photography in the new volume is greatly improved. Although the earlier version offered a separate volume dedicated to reproductions, they were entirely in black and white. The second edition features 233 large scale color plates placed at the end of chapters. These are images of most of the autograph paintings, and some details. There are an additional 182 figures in color. Unfortunately, many of these are the size of postage stamps, making them of limited use. Like the first edition, the second includes a significant bibliography, but no citations. One finds only occasional asides with citations set apart on a page by an asterisk. Those thoroughly steeped in the art historical literature can recognize from whence Slive derived new information, but without citations those less well versed may find the book occasionally frustrating.
As ample as the new edition is, it revises but the first two volumes of the original project. Missing is the catalogue. Slive does address and illustrate several pictures that resurfaced after the initial publication. Yet, a current catalogue of Hals’s paintings is sorely needed as Slive’s is over forty years old now. As Slive’s 1974 effort was so thorough with entries not only on the accepted works but also on twenty lost paintings and another eighty-one that he found doubtfully or wrongly attributed, it is a shame that Slive was not able to update the third volume as well. This last point is a testament to Slive’s achievements. His studies, especially those of Hals, are so rich, evocative, and intensely researched that one only wishes for more.
Christopher D.M. Atkins
Philadelphia Museum of Art