The Frans Hals Museum is a hofje and municipal museum in Haarlem, the Netherlands. The museum was founded in 1862 in the newly renovated former cloister located in the back of the Haarlem city hall known as the Prinsenhof. The collection is based on the wealthy collection of the city hall itself, including more than a dozen paintings by Frans Hals, for whom it is named, but also contains other interesting Haarlem art from the 15th century up to the present day. The collection moved to the present location in 1913, and the modern collection is located in the two buildings on the town square called the Hallen, for the former occupations of the buildings, the Fish Hall and the Meat Hall. The main collection, including the Frans Hals paintings, is currently located on the Klein Heiligland, across the street from the Haarlem historical museum.
The classical collection is housed in the old Oudemannenhuis (Old Men's Alms House), a home for elderly men founded in 1609. The residential rooms were situated around a courtyard in the style of contemporary Haarlem Hofjes. Each of the thirty tiny little houses was inhabited by two men; to be eligible for living there the men had to be at least 60 years old, honest Haarlem residents, and single. They were required to bring their own household goods listed as a bed, a chair with a cushion, a tin chamberpot, three blankets, six good shirts and six nightcaps. They were locked in each night at eight o'clock in the summer and at seven in the winter. The residents had to make a weekly collection with a poor-box, and a statue of a man holding this poor-box can be seen in the entrance hall of the museum. The old men's home was governed by 5 regents and the paintings of these regents by Frans Hals in 1664 are on display.
Though the men's home dates from 1609, this date must refer to the building date of the impressive regent's rooms. A room on the street has a curious keystone above the door with masonic symbols denoting a mason's society and the text 'Metsselaars Proef-Kamer 1648 12/29'. In the course of four centuries various modifications to the complex were made and it is not exactly clear from the museum information which parts were for which purpose.
In 1810 the complex became an orphanage, and in 1913 it became the new location for the classical collection of the Frans Hals museum, including the paintings by Frans Hals. The meager living conditions of the typical orphan in this building in the 19th century is well documented thanks to the autobiographical stories of the Haarlem writer Jacobus van Looy.
Among the more famous paintings on display is a modern exhibit with explanatory text showing the paintings in relation to historical events and the economic history of Haarlem. One of the best stories in this wing is the fabel about the Haarlem 'crusade' to Damietta. The bells in the Haarlem church on the main square are still called the 'Damiaatjes' for this reason.
Aside from paintings, the collection includes objects relating to Haarlem that have been acquired by donations. Among these are an old 'apotheek' or pharmacy which has been rebuilt in its entirety in one of the alms houses. Several stately rooms saved from torn-down Haarlem houses have been rebuilt and a collection of Haarlem silver saved from various local churches can also be seen. Spread along the corridors are beautiful Dutch tiles along the walls, accompanied by period furniture including clocks, chairs, and chests.
Between 1605 and 1635 over 100,000 paintings were produced in Haarlem. Not all of these have survived, and most have left town, but this does say something about the artistic climate in the city. At that time art ownership in the city was 25%, a record high. More art has survived up to today from that period in Haarlem than from any other Dutch city. What follows is a list of the prominent painters through the centuries on display in the museum.