Frans Hals (1581 or 1582 - 1666), Dutch painter
Frans Hals is considered one of Holland’s most significant painters, next to Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Vermeer. He was born in Antwerpen in 1581 or 1582 (there clearly is no reliable exact year to give) and moved to Haarlem as a child. The latter city considers Hals the pride of the town. In Haarlem (30 kilometers west of Amsterdam) you can also find the Frans Halsmuseum with a collection of 17th century portraits by Hals and landscapes by other painters. The eight group portraits in the museum are the highlights of his oeuvre.
In his own time, Hals was not seen as a significant painter at all. He focussed entirely on portraits of people and groups. As far as we know, he did not produce any other genre. Outside Haarlem, Hals was practically unknown.
His main aim was to provide a living. Because of his large family, Hals always needed a lot of money, which was worsened by the fact that he was a big spender. The painter never knew a state of reasonable wealth. At the end of his life, he even had to be supported by the city of Haarlem.
Frans Hals used a very particular style for his portraits. He painted loosely and elegant but in a tight composition format. The faces are never too tidy or straight; it rather seems that the people are about to talk to you or to smile for some reason. Because he solely painted to earn his living, there are no hidden meanings or symbols in his paintings.
He died in 1666 and was buried in the Grote Kerk (Large Church) in Haarlem. You can find his museum at http://www.franshalsmuseum.nl/. The website also contains an English section.