Named after the celebrated man himself, this not-to-be-missed museum holds a collection of amazingly virile and lively group portraits by the Golden Age painter, depicting the merrymaking civic guards and congregating regents for which he became world-famous. The building itself is one of the town's smarter hofjes: an entire block of almshouses grouped around an attractive courtyard. In the 17th century, this was a home for elderly men, an oudemannenhuis, so it is only fitting that their cottages now form a sequence of galleries for the paintings of Hals and other 17th-century masters of the Haarlem School, along with period furniture, antique silver, and ceramics.
Many of the works on display represent Hals at his jovial best—for instance, the Banquet of the Officers of the Civic Guard of St. Adrian (1624–27) or the Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Militia (1616), where the artist cunningly allows for the niceties of rank (captains are more prominent
than sergeants, and so on down the line) as well as emotional interaction: he was the first painter to have people gaze and laugh at each other in these grand portraits.
As respite from nearly 250 canvases, step into the museum's courtyard—lovely, and planted with formal-garden baby hedges, of which you get only fleeting glimpses as you work your way through the galleries (most of the blinds are shut against the sunlight to protect the paintings). In one room, with curtains drawn for extra protection, is Sara Rothè's Dolls' House; nearby is an exquisitely crafted miniature version of a merchant's canal house. On leaving, View of Haarlem (1655) by Nicolaes Hals, Frans's son, bids you good-bye.
From mid-March to mid-May, during bulb season, the museum is made even more resplendent, with a liberal splash of tulip bouquets and other floral art displays adding extra color to the galleries and hallways.