The collection of the city of Haarlem has been managed by museums since 1862, and since 1913 it has been placed on view at the Frans Hals Museum. Although the collection has diverse subdivisions, its main focus is on the visual arts. Besides internationally-renowned paintings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the collection also includes modern and contemporary artworks of national significance. There are more than 20,000 objects in total, including some 800 paintings from the Netherlands of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The early modern art collection also includes silver and glassware, ceramics, and furniture. The Old Masters collection is closely linked to the city of Haarlem. The tolerant city council foresaw the events of the 1566 iconoclasm and ensured that masterpieces such as the now world-famous paintings by Maarten van Heemskerck were removed from the churches and taken to safety in good time.
Artists such as Cornelis van Haarlem also received commissions from the city council, most notably to decorate the interior of the Prinsenhof. In 1606, the council decided that everyone who wanted to view the artworks in the Prinsenhof must be allowed to do so free of charge. Later in the seventeenth century, the city council also commissioned a great many works from artists including Jan de Bray and Hendrick Pot. The council’s dual qualities of tolerance and love of the arts served as a magnet for artists from elsewhere, creating a climate in which Haarlem art could truly flourish. Because of this, the city has a magnificent collection of Old Masters. In 1862 the Stedelijk Museum opened in Haarlem city hall. In 1913 it was renamed the Frans Hals Museum and moved into its current premises in the former Old Men’s Almshouse on Groot Heiligland, built in 1609. The annex on Grote Markt is used mainly to display modern and contemporary art.
The paintings of Frans Hals naturally occupy a special place within the collection. Frans Hals was a painter of people, ostensibly captured in a fleeting moment, and an innovator. He was highly influential and continues to inspire artists to this day. He worked in Haarlem throughout his career and the collection includes portraits as well as regent and militia pieces by his hand. The museum also displays several of his works on long-term loan, thereby having in its care the largest collection of paintings by Frans Hals in the world.
The museum also possesses works by the sixteenth-century Haarlem painters Jan van Scorel, Hendrick Goltzius, and Karel van Mander. Other highlights include landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael, cityscapes by Gerrit Berckheyde, peasant scenes by Adriaen van Ostade, and food still lifes by Pieter Claesz.
Marrigje Rikken, Head of Collections & Exhibitions (September 2023)