Frans Hals helped to make the 17th century into what has been called Holland's Golden Age. During his long life and career, spent in the small towm of Haarlem, near Amsterdam he created the vivid characterizations of his contemporaries reproduced in this book - merchants, a tramp, burgomasters, urchins, regents, officers and sergeants of the local civic guard companies. Not only did he recieve high praise from writers of the time, but his lively brushwork won him the admiration of the Impressionists more than two centuries later. His ability to penetrate the outward appearance of his sitters and reveal their innermost personalities marks him as a masterly and profound portraitist. This volume aims to free him from his cramping image as a painter of lighthearted gaiety and places him instead among the greatest masters of colour and light. By juxtaposing Hals's work with that of his contemporaries and by describing the artistic climate in Haarlem at the time, the author reveals the artist's true originality.