There was doubtless a very early school of Dutch painters, dating back to the fourteenth century even; but the records of it are so imperfect, and so few pictures remain from its early days, that for our purpose it is best to pass over the fifteenth century and say that during the sixteenth century the painters of Holland gave up the painting of sacred subjects very largely, and began to take on the characteristics of what is generally known now as the Dutch School. This school is distinguished for its portraits, which form a large and important part of its painting; next for its domestic scenes, which are realistic and true to life in an astonishing degree.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century Holland had obtained a position as a nation that freed its artists from the influence of the Romish Church and the fear of the Inquisition, and they soon used their freedom to establish a national art, and one which became very important to the world. Franz Hals (1584-1666) was the most noteworthy of the portrait-painters. He was born at Mechlin, but passed most of his life at Haarlem. There was a custom in Holland of painting portraits of the members of guilds and societies in groups, and some such works of his at Haarlem are very fine. I have told a story of his rapid manner in the sketch of Vandyck. He was the first master to introduce that free, bold, sleight-of-hand manner which was afterward used by the Dutch masters, and is so strong in its effect. This painter led a merry, careless life. His portraits of single heads or figures are rare, and his small genre subjects still more so. In the Hôtel de Ville at Haarlem there are as many as eight of his large works, most of them having ten or a dozen portraits.

The Dutch painters of still-life—flowers, dead game and poultry, and metals, glass, and other beautiful objects—were very skilful, and have never been surpassed. The names of these masters would make a long list. There is little to be told of the circumstances of their lives, though their works are seen in most European galleries, and well repay one for careful examination.

Fig 57 Fig. 57.—Portrait of an Officer.
By Franz Hals.

Another form of Dutch art is the representation of scenes from peasant life, and there were some very eminent painters who devoted themselves to these subjects entirely. The interiors of inns with men smoking and drinking, playing cards or making jokes, were subjects many times repeated; dancing villagers, fêtes, and fairs were often pictured, and in all these scenes everything was given exactly to the life. It follows that these pictures of coarse, vulgar people engaged in rude amusements cannot be beautiful; but they are oftentimes wonderful. Among the most noted names in this kind of painting are those of Adrian Brauwer, the Van Ostades, the Teniers, and Jan Steen. Most of these artists executed small pictures only. I shall speak particularly of but one of these Dutch genre painters—David Teniers the younger (1610-1694), who became the greatest painter of his time of scenes from common life. This is very great praise, because there were many Dutch and several Flemish painters who were noted for such pictures. This Teniers studied with his father, but his works show that he was much influenced by Rubens. He excelled in guard-house scenes and peasant life in every aspect. In representations of the alchemist also he was unequalled, as well as in fairs and festivals of every sort. He sometimes painted sacred subjects, but they are the least praiseworthy of all his works.

The pictures of Teniers are very numerous. One author describes nine hundred of his works which are known to be genuine, and it is believed that there may be one hundred more. He often represented a great number of figures on one canvas. At Schleissheim there was a large picture, thirteen and a half feet by ten feet in size, which contained one thousand one hundred and thirty-eight figures. It was not unusual for him to paint from one hundred and fifty to three hundred figures in a single picture of moderate size. He had a light, brilliant touch, his color was exquisite, and his arrangement of his subjects was very picturesque. His chief fault was a resemblance in his heads, and for this reason those pictures with the fewest figures are his best works.

Teniers had several royal patrons, and earned sufficient money to live in handsome style in his home in Perck, not far from Mechlin. He chose this place in order to be near the peasant classes, whose life was his chief study. He also excelled in his ability to imitate the styles of other masters. In the Vienna Gallery there is a curious work of his which represents the walls of a room hung with fifty pictures, imitating those of various Italian masters; in the foreground are portraits of Teniers and the Archduke Leopold William, who are represented as conversing with each other.