This is the story of a rich merchant family from 17th Century Haarlem in The Netherlands. Or it’s actually the story of a portrait of that family. Gijsbrecht and Maria van Campen celebrated in 1624 their 20th wedding anniversary, by ordering a family portrait from the famous Dutch painter Frans Hals. They wanted to be portrayed in grand style, together with their 13 children. And that became a big painting of nearly 4 meters long. Almost too big to fit in any house. Oh, small detail indeed, after the painting was finished, child nr 14 was born. It’s a daughter, and she conveniently got photoshopped into the painting in the bottom left corner. Not by Frans Hals but by Salomon de Bray (1597 – 1664), another famous painter from Haarlem.
Frans Hals was a popular portrait painter, who lived and worked in Haarlem. He depicted his clients in an informal realistic and relaxed way, but certainly grand and with elegance. Exactly how a liberal “new-rich” successful merchant wants to be depicted. It should be old-style “royal”, but in an informal modern way. Think how the European royal families of these days like to be photographed: royal and grand, but informal at the same time!
The picture with the parents and their 14 children as shown here above is a reconstruction. Of the original painting, three pieces still exist: “Van Campen Family in a Landscape” in the Toledo Museum of Art, “Children of the Van Campen Family with a Goat Cart” in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and “Head of a Young Boy” in a private collection. For the first time in two hundred years, the three surviving pieces of this monumental family portrait are on view side by side at an exhibition in the Fondation Custodia in Paris (until August 25, 2019.
The descendants of the Van Campens decided to cut their family portrait into pieces and sell it as separate “Frans Hals” paintings. The original painting was rather big and difficult to fit in any decent house and almost unsellable in its original format. And by cutting in into pieces, one actually creates even more paintings by the famous Frans Hals! Now, after a few hundreds of years, those three individual paintings have been puzzled together to reunite the parents and children Van Campen in one family portrait. In modern times, you sometimes edit someone out of a picture. But here we are happy to put a family with 14 children together again. The original piece with the portrayal of the two children in the bottom right corner is still missing. If you happen to know the whereabouts of these two kids, please do contact me or the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels.