WHAT the broad-bottomed, solidly middle-class burghers of The Netherlands asked of their artists in the 1600s was not classic grandeur but homey detail. Proud and prosperous, they wanted their portraits to be a frank and meticulous likeness, with full attention to the fine stuffs, starched ruffs and ribboned cuffs that bespoke their newly self-made affluence. And in all subsequent ages of prosperity, business and bustle there has been an appreciative audience for Frans Hals, the artist who caught his fellow Dutchmen at their swashbuckling best, whether downing a glass of Haarlem beer or decked out in their Sunday finery.

Frans Hals, father...

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