Frans Hals was born in 1580 or 1581, most probably in Antwerp. In 1585, after Antwerp fell to Spain in the Eighty Years War his family moved to Haarlem in the Netherlands, where he lived the remainder of his life.
He took painting lessons from Flemish painter Karel van Mander, who had also fled from the Spaniards. His 'breakthrough' came in 1616, with the life-size group portrait, The Banquet of the Officers of the St George Militia Company.
Historians have reported that he mistreated his first wife, Anneke Hermansz, and she died in 1616. Already with two children by Anneke, he married Lysbeth Reyniers in 1617. They had eight children. He liked to drink, which led him into the company of people of ill repute.
Hals is best known for his portraits, mainly of wealthy citizens. He also painted large group portraits. He was a Baroque painter, with intimate realism and a radical approach.
His style changed throughout his life. Vivid colours were gradually replaced by pieces where one colour dominated. Since 1641 he showed a tendency to suggest color rather than express it. Later in his life darker tones, even with much black, took over. His brush strokes became looser in later years, fine details became less important than an overall impression. Also his later portraits emphasized the stature and dignity of the people portrayed, where his earlier pieces radiated gaiety and liveliness.
Although Hals' work was in demand throughout his life, he experienced financial difficulties. He worked as an art dealer and restorer in addition to painting. His creditors brought him to court several times, and to settle his debt in 1652 he sold his belongings. Left destitute, the municipality gave him an annuity of 200 forms in 1664.
Frans Hals died in Haarlem on August 26, 1666 and was buried in the city's St. Bavo Church.