Comparing Caravaggio and Frans Hals

Caravaggio's "Boy Bitten by a Lizard" (1594-1596).

PERIPATETIC museumgoers visiting both the Frans Hals show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which closed last month, and “Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome,” which opened on Oct. 16 at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth (after a run this summer at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa), have a rare chance not just to see 13 Halses and 10 Caravaggios but also to compare these substantial bodies of work by two near-contemporaries: celebrated figure painters who might at first seem an unlikely pairing, but who turn out to share surprising affinities.

Frans Hals's "Boy With a Lute" (1625).

Hals’s earliest known work dates from 1611, when he was about 29, a year after Caravaggio’s death at 38. Hals, a high-spirited Dutchman, and Caravaggio, a tempestuous Italian, each found inspiration among the tipplers, seducers and tricksters of their era’s demimondes, though with decidedly different results. Caravaggio’s sinners are as intense and disturbing as Hals’s revelers are ebullient and untroubled. Still, as illustrated by the two sets of paired paintings right and below, some works by these two artists resonate strongly with each other.

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