Frans Hals used to be my favorite painter.
That was the case until I stumbled upon this passage during my research in a book from my collection:
The painter’s first marriage was not happy; he was even publicly reprimanded for cruelty to his wife.A Wanderer In Holland by E. V. Lucas (1905)
Frans Hals, to my shock and grief, was a wife beater.
As I started to grasp the concept of having my hero’s reputation tarnished, I sat devoid of ideas about how to cleverly lead-in to a blog post about a Frans Hals-related Beer & Bike ride. Do I want to risk my near Karl Baedeker or Rick Steves-level reputation by glorifying someone who was derided for abusing his wife?
Well I better turn to the most impeccable investigative resource I could think of. The one used round the world in times of need.
That’s how I discovered Seymour Slive. Despite the particularly menacing mad-scientistesque name, Seymour was a renowned expert in Dutch art. Slive published a three volume biography about Frans Hals from 1970-1974. He also published works about Rembrandt and Jacob Van Ruisdael (the most famous Dutch landscape artist). However, it was a 1989 book by Slive which coincided with Frans Hals exhibits going on in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the Royal Academy of Art in London, and the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem where Slive disputes the long-believed claim that Hals abused his wife. Slive indicates that the actual charges were filed in 1616 against another resident of Haarlem with the same name. In fact, Frans Hals wife died in May 1615 long before the charges were made.
So there you have it. Evidence of a 374-year character assassination plot against Frans Hals, and a blog post that was back in business.
Frans Hals IS my favorite painter once again.
And that means I can continue with this blog post in good conscience. (Cue the applause)
Make no mistake. Frans Hals is a huge inspiration for itsabrewtifulworld.com. No, he did not paint pictures of people hiking and biking. Hals painted portraits and as far as we know, only portraits. But some of them have blessed the world with the most famous brewtiful characters in art. The Merry Drinker, The Laughing Cavalier, and Malle Babbe to name a few. There is something fun, light-hearted, even slightly promiscuous in these characters. The Merry Drinker is my all-time favorite Frans Hals piece and somewhere long ago when I first saw that painting hanging in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, a seed was planted which ultimately led to my own concoction of drinking blended with my chosen art form, travel blogging. This blog is in a sense my Merry Drinker.
The question is, did the man Frans Hals fit the spirit of itsabrewtifulworld? He wins points right off the bat for being born in Antwerpen, Belgium in 1582. Antwerpen has become my adopted hometown over the last several years. His life in Antwerpen was short lived though because the Eighty Years War came along which found the Dutch fighting for independence against Spain, so Hals and his family fled to Haarlem. But can Frans Hals be linked to the world of drinking beer? Well, I am so glad you asked.
From 1718-1721, a series of short encyclopedia-style biographies were released in three volumes called De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen (or The Great Theater of Dutch Painters) by Arnold Houbraken whose likeness is displayed in the west front of the Rijksmuseum. Encyclopedia-style art biography was invented by a guy named Georgio Vasari in around 1550 with his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. While that work is invaluable, it is also riddled with gossip and invented anecdotes. It is quite possible Houbraken also followed in Vasari’s footsteps and embellished or fabricated his anecdotes. What Houbraken writes about Frans Hals seems too perfect for this blog to be true. The anecdote is brilliant and one can only hope there is some truth to it. The story involves another great master, the Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck. And it goes like this….
Frans Hals walks into a bar….
Meanwhile, Anthony Van Dyck was on his way to England to serve as court painter to Charles I and decided to swing by Haarlem to look for Frans.
Maar ‘t had zyn werk in, hem in de bierkroegen op te zoeken, daar hy niet eer uit kwam, voor hy zyn pintje geleegd had.
Translation: Van Dyck had to work to find him in the beer bars because Hals never comes out before his glass was empty.De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, pg. 91 by Arnold Houbraken
Van Dyke came up with a scheme to hide his identity and ask Hals to paint his portrait. Hals accepted the request on the spot and began to work on the portrait. When he was finished, Van Dyck chose his words carefully in his compliments so as not appear an expert in art. Van Dyck then asked Hals if he could try painting him. As Van Dyck was painting, he made it look like his brush strokes were amateurish so that Hals would not become suspicious. When Van Dyck was done, he asked Hals to look at his work. Hals took one look and cried out:
Gy zyt van Dyk, want geen mensch anders kan zulks doen, viel hem om den hals, en kuste hem.
Translation: “You are Van Dyck because no one else could have done this!” He fell on his neck and kissed him.De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, pg. 91 by Arnold Houbraken
Houbraken later described Hals:
Frans was gemeenlyk allen avond tot de keel toe vol met drank.
Translation: Frans was commonly filled to the throat every night with drink.De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, pg. 94 by Arnold Houbraken
Whether Houbraken made all this up is certainly open for debate, but what an anecdote! And the fact that Houbraken seems to devote more time discussing Frans Hals’ drinking habits than his artistic merits warrants the legitimate candidacy for Frans Hals to be a spiritual founder of itsabrewtifulworld.
To become immersed into the world of Frans Hals means visiting Haarlem in the Netherlands. The two main Frans Hals related sites are the Frans Hals Museum and the Grote Kerk where Hals is buried.
Frans Hals Museum
The Frans Hals museum is absolutely a worthwhile stop. It is located in a former Old Men’s Almshouse (Oude Mannenhuis) on the very charming street (one of many in this city), Groot Heiligland. The collection is not just Frans Hals but of other Dutch masters as well, mainly paintings that were seized and rescued during the Protestant Reformation.
The Grote Kerk sits on the Grote Markt and costs a few euros for entry. The grave of Frans Hals is in the choir which is not accessible to the public. During my visit, they were setting up for a concert so my photo was a bit rushed. Look, there he is!
…and what of beer in Haarlem?
Around the time of Frans Hals, Haarlem had around 100 breweries. In the Frans Hals Museum is a painting showing one of those breweries, De Passer en de Valk, where workers are loading barrels of beer onto a boat. Water used for brewing at that time was taken from the Brouwersvaart or Brewers Canal which still exists today. Beer brewing completely died out by the early 1800’s but today is being revived by Jopen and Uiltje breweries. Haarlem and vicinity therefore makes a great location for a Beer & Bike ride.
The Ride Details
Here is the link to the complete ride on Komoot.
- Starting Point: Frans Hals Museum
- Ending Point: Frans Hals Museum
- Distance: 56.3 km
- My Moving Time: 3 hours 23 minutes
- Eating Place: Jopen Brewery
The Jopen Brewery makes a good first or last stop depending on your preference. I waited until the end of the ride to enjoy a beer and dinner. Jopen was started in 1992 to revive the once rich beer brewing tradition in Haarlem. Two recipes were found from 1407 (Koyt) and 1501 (Hoppen), which are two of the several beers now brewed by Jopen. The name Jopen refers to the name of the barrels used to transport beer on the canals. The brewery is housed in an old church (Jacobskerk).
National Park Zuid-Kennemerland
Between Haarlem and the North Sea lies a 9400-acre national park. For a country not known for its natural beauty, this area is quite distinctive with its sand dunes. It only achieved national park status in 1995, and since then the government has continually tried to populate it with new animal species for diversity and population control purposes. The Highland cattle were visible during my visit.
There are some access points to the beaches of the North Sea. One is at the end of the path on my route which branches off of the main loop. This is the only way to and from by bike.
WWII Bunkers IJmuiden
A museum consisting of WWII bunkers.
Cafe Terras Fort Zuid
An old fort which houses a cafe.
Everywhere you go in the Netherlands are charming canal scenes, whether thru a village or simply along somebody’s backyard.
Het Uiltje Brewing Company
Het Uiltje is not located in the city center of Haarlem but in a business park which didn’t make it easy to spot as I was riding by. Whereas Jopen is focused on brewing traditional style beers with some dabbling in craft beer styles, Het Uiltje is all about craft beer, experimental stouts, barrel aged series, and other wacky concoctions to go along with its colorfully cartooned labels. The Mind Your Step variations are especially delicious. Definitely bring a suitable backpack when visiting by bike because the bottle shop is full of temptations.
As I arrived back at Jopen to end the ride with a dinner and beer, I had already convinced myself that this was one of the best Beer & Bike rides that I have done. The Netherlands has such a unique character which makes up for the lack of natural scenery. The national park was a pleasant surprise and it is always wonderful when the local nature becomes a site in and of itself. Haarlem is a gem of a city and despite visiting it four times already, I still feel like there is so much more to discover there. Frans Hals was notorious for making his portrait subjects come to his studio in Haarlem rather than traveling to them. Perhaps it was just stubborness or the fact that he had eight kids, but the city itself is captivating and I could imagine that it would be difficult to leave its charm when you lived there in the 1600’s, especially when you were surrounded by 100 breweries.