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The Meagre Company

Pieter Codde

The Meagre Company

Pieter Codde
  • Date: 1637
  • Style: Baroque
  • Genre: genre painting
  • Dimensions: 209 x 429 cm
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The Meagre Company, or The company of Captain Reinier Reael and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw, refers to the only militia group portrait, or schutterstuk, painted by Frans Hals outside of Haarlem, and today is in the collection of the Amsterdam Museum, on loan to the Rijksmuseum, where it is considered one of its main attractions of the Honor Gallery. Hals was unhappy about commuting to Amsterdam to work on the painting and, unlike his previous group portraits, was unable to deliver it on time. The sitters contracted Pieter Codde to finish the work.

Hals was originally contracted in 1633, after the favorable reception of his previous militia group portrait, The Officers of the St Adrian Militia Company in 1633, in which all ensigns are holding flags and all officers are holding their weapons. The sergeants were shown, holding halberds to differentiate them from officers with spontoons. Hals seems to have initially intended an Amsterdam version of the same painting, beginning on the left with a smiling flag bearer wearing a flamboyant cut-sleeve jacket with lace and holding a flag in the color of his sash. Though it is impossible to tell on which side of the canvas Hals began painting, the light falls onto the figures from the left in the "standard" Hals tradition and this is also where the most important figures are situated within the painting. Since each sitter paid for his own portrait, it is presumed that Hals began with the most important sitters in order to "sell" canvas room to other paying officers. Whether or not Hals did in fact start on the left or drew a sketch of the entire group at once, the flag bearer on the left in this painting has been painted in a remarkably flamboyant way from the tip of his hat to the toe of his boots. This was possibly to prove to the decision makers in Amsterdam that Hals was capable of painting a schutterstuk in the "Amsterdam style", which included the entire figure. In Haarlem, the civic guards were traditionally portrayed in the kniestuk style of being "cut off at the knee" in three-quarter length portraits.

The flag bearer is Nicolaes van Bambeeck. Seated next to him are Captain Reael, with hat and commander's staff, and Lieutenant Cornelis Michielsz Blaeuw, balding and holding a spontoon. The further to the right, however, the less the two paintings resemble each other. In 1636 Hals was called to Amsterdam to finish the painting, but he refused, offering to receive the sitters in his Haarlem studio with assurances that they would not need to sit very long. His offer was refused and Codde was hired to finish the piece. Because the men are thinner than the men portrayed in other, later, Amsterdam schutterstukken hanging near this painting, the piece was later nicknamed the "meagre company". Besides the ensign and the seated men, the names of the other officers are unknown today.

The impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh was inspired by the painting, which he saw when he paid a visit to the Night Watch in the newly opened Rijksmuseum in 1885. He sent an enthusiastic letter about it to his brother Theo:

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