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Invited work: The Company of Captain Reijnier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw

Madrid 12/3/2009 - 2/28/2010

Together with Rembrandt and Vermeer, Frans Hals (1581/85-1666) is one of the best known of all seventeenth-century Dutch painters. Although he worked in Haarlem, this commission came from Amsterdam in 1633. Following a dispute between the patrons and Hals due to the delays in finishing the picture, it was completed in 1637 by Pieter Codde (1599-1678), an important Amsterdam painter.

The part painted by Hals is typical of his finest works. He designed the entire composition and painted at least the seven figures on the left. Their animated expressions and the positioning of the heads and hands makes them appear involved in some action or in conversation. Another characteristic feature is the emphatic nature of some of the brushstrokes, which are primarily used to convey the brightest points of light. This manner of painting, which recalls Velázquez, would make Hals one of the artists most admired by his fellow countryman Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), who in a letter expressed his admiration for the standard-bearer.

The section painted by Pieter Codde (who is thought to be responsible for the figures on the right as well as significant re-touching of the clothes of the other figures) does not correspond to his usual minutely detailed technique and reveals how he aimed to imitate Hals’s style.

The present work conforms to a type of group portrait known as the “militia company”, which is widely found in Dutch art in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Such companies, made up of volunteer members of the urban elite, existed in Holland from the late sixteenth century, assembling when their services were required. They commissioned group portraits of this type, the most famous of which is Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1642), to hang in their headquarters. During the period that the present canvas was painted these companies were still occasionally involved in military conflicts and played a role in the struggle for independence from the Spanish Monarchy.

Within the context of the Museo del Prado, it is worth noting the existence of an interesting parallel in Spain. In the same way that Hals and Codde’s painting can be considered a vehicle for visual propaganda that emphasised the willingness of those depicted to defend the Dutch Republic, a number of works executed at the court in Madrid during this period exalt the virtues of the Spanish forces. One such work is Velázquez’s Surrender of Breda, painted in 1634-35, at exactly the same time as the present work, which celebrates the capture of the Dutch city of Breda by the troops of the Spanish king. This work by Frans Hals and Pieter Codde is an expression of pride by one side in the conflict, while Velázquez’s canvas conveys comparable sentiments on the part of the other.

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Room D, first floor. Jerónimos Building

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