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Details
Dirck Hals (Haarlem 1591-1656)
Elegant figures feasting in a garden
signed with monogram (centre, on the red cushion)
oil on panel
19 ½ x 27 7/8 in. (49 x 70.8 cm.)
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Frederik Muller & Cie, Amsterdam, 30 November 1909, lot 18, as 'Superbe tableau'.
Anonymous sale; Frederik Muller & Cie, Amsterdam, 4-5 December 1912, lot 189, as 'Superbe tableau'.
Collection de château de Nyenrode; Frederik Muller & Cie, Amsterdam, 10 July 1923, lot 28, as 'Superbe tableau'.
Richard Weininger, by 1938.
with Brian Koetser, London, 1967.
The Weiniger Collection, New York.
with French & Company, New York, 1983.
with Noortman, 4 April 2000, from whom acquired.
Literature
B. Nehlsen-Marten, Dirck Hals 1591-1656: Oeuvre und Entwicklung eines Haarlemer Genremalers, Weimar, 2003, pp. 106, 122, 162 and 275, no. 82, illustrated.
E. Kolfin, The young gentry at play: Northern Netherlandish scenes of merry companies 1610-1645, Leiden, 2005, pp. 101, 105 and 107, illustrated in colour.

Exhibited
London, Brian Koetser Gallery, Autumn exhibition of Old Master Paintings, 9 October–20 December 1967, no. 30.
Rutgers University, The Zimmerli Art Museum, Haarlem: The Seventeenth Century, 20 February–17 April 1983, no. 65.
Pittsburgh, Frick Art Museum, Gardens of Earthly Delight: 16th & 17th Century Netherlandish Gardens, 3 April–18 May 1986, no. 20.

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Lot Essay

This lavish garden scene ranks among Dirck Hals’s undisputed masterpieces. It is also arguably his earliest work, datable on grounds of style and of the fashion of the costumes depicted to around 1617 (Kolfin, op. cit. p. 105). Merry companies, set in gardens or outdoor terraces, had begun to be painted at the very beginning of the seventeenth century by Esaias van de Velde, David Vinckboons and Willem Buytewech, however, as Elmer Kolfin writes: ‘Today, fewer than 25 outdoor merry companies by all three combined are known from the period 1610-25’ (ibid.). Kolfin further emphasises that the sharp rise in the production of such garden scenes only came about in around 1620 with the work of Dirck Hals, who made it his specialty. Indeed, when both Van de Velde and Buytewech had left Haarlem in 1617, Hals became the only practitioner of such subjects there.

During these early years, Hals took his cue from the work of Buytewech, who, in addition to his elder brother Frans Hals, may even have been his master. The present work can be compared to Buytewech’s well-known Company in a park in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin (on loan from a private collection). The many similarities in the composition and the distribution of the fashionable figures in two groups on either side of the set table, as well as in motifs such as the wine-cooler in the mid-foreground and the empty chair in front of the table, compellingly suggest that Hals might be emulating Buytewech here, while Hals’s spontaneous execution suggests the influence of Frans.

Hals’s loose brushwork is perfectly suited to rendering the loose morals of the protagonists. As is customary in such scenes of levity, subtle allusions to vanity and the folly of sensual enjoyment are hidden in details, for instance the peacock pie in the middle of the table, which symbolised superbia, human pride and voluptuousness. Such details in combination with the subject of feasting young people would have reminded contemporary beholders instantly of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). However, this work is in the first place a celebration of conviviality. Depicting no less than eight love couples, this fête champêtre is a splendid continuation of the traditional Garden of Love.

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