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Audio guide: Portrait of an unknown man

Audio guide stop: 1501

Crowdsourced transcription of the audio file

A portrait of an unknown man (150)
A portrait of an unknown man (150)
Creative Commons Licence

When the Fitzwilliam Museum acquired this portrait by Frans Hals in 1879, it looked rather different. A previous owner painted over the background in brown paint, and obliterated the sitter's great black broad-brimmed hat.

Although he was appreciated in his own lifetime, particularly in his native Haarlem, Hals' rough spontaneous style found few admirers until the late nineteenth century, when he was rediscovered, not least by Vincent Van Gogh.

'What a joy to see a Frans Hals', he wrote, two centuries after the artist's death. 'How different from those pictures where everything has been carefully smoothed down in the same way.

Art historian Julia Tozer considers what Van Gogh might have appreciated about this particular work by his fellow countryman:

'I think one of the things he would have absolutely loved about this portrait was that Hals was celebrating his own people in a way that Van Gogh also was to do, he was to go on to to paint portraits of people whose lives would otherwise have been unrecorded.

And there's something about the man in this painting, with his tousled hair and his jaunty hat and so on, and his very, very lived-in face that transcends time, he does seem to live and breathe in front of us and we're right back with him somehow, and that immediacy was something van Gogh wanted too.'

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The transcription of the audio file for this stop was enabled by the AHRC funded crowd-sourcing platform MicroPasts. The below generously gave their time to transcribe the file.

Mariah Ashbacher, Michael Norman, Shona Hoey, Chris Gibbon, Daniel Pett and Emma Harbour

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