The smiling rommel-pot player in this painting by Frans Hals has gathered around him an audience of amused children offering him coins. The children delight in the appalling sounds emitted by this lowly instrument, which is made of a pig’s bladder stretched over an earthenware jug half-filled with water. A reed is bound in a small pocket in the middle of the bladder and moved up and down to produce a rumbling sound. Played by impoverished street musicians, rommel pots were particularly associated with the pre-Lenten celebration of Shrovetide, here indicated by the fool’s foxtail worn by the man.
The Rommel-Pot Player is one of the earliest paintings to portray convincingly the vivacious and joyful expressions of children, here conveyed with Hals’s distinctive brisk brushstrokes. This composition–– associated with the idea of folly––was one of the artist’s most popular subjects, and a number of versions and variants survive. The best of these is the Kimbell painting, a work with numerous revisions that apparently served as the prototype for the others.
Frans Hals was the leading painter in the Dutch town of Haarlem, where he spent most of his life. He received many commissions from wealthy burghers for individual and group portraits, and also produced religious paintings and genre scenes from everyday life. He was especially famed in his lifetime, as today, for the spontaneity of his brushwork.
Adult: The Rommel-Pot Player
Sir Frederick Lucas Cook, 2nd baronet [1844-1920], Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey, England, by 1903;
by descent to his eldest son, Sir Herbert Frederick Cook, 3rd baronet [1868-1939], Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey;
by descent to his eldest son, Sir Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook, 4th baronet [1907-1978], Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey;
(Newhouse Galleries Inc., New York);
purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Kay Kimbell, Fort Worth, 1951;
bequeathed to Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1964.