No chronicle of art history’s greatest mustaches — such as this one we’ve embarked upon to mark the month-long male cancer awareness campaign Movember — would be complete without an entry from Dutch master and noted facial hair enthusiast Frans Hals. His oeuvre abounds with memorable mustaches, owing in part to the facial hair fashions of 17th century Netherlands, but we find ourselves especially attracted to the young man with the sidelong stare and smirk in Hals’s “The Laughing Cavalier” (1624).
The exquisite baroque painting is one of the prized possessions of London’s Wallace Collection, and it’s not difficult to understand why. In addition to his terrific coif of wispy handlebar mustache and chin puff beard, the sitter sports an incredibly intricate coat with beautiful, patterned detailing, and a many-layered and complex collar. He is also wearing a giant hat that, due to Hals’s relatively loose brushwork and the paintings unusually low vantage point, forms a large black orb behind the subject’s head, throwing it further into relief and emphasizing the work’s monumentality.
Though the title “The Laughing Cavalier” took hold in the late-19th century, the sitter is neither a cavalier, nor is he laughing — his facial expression could best be described as a thin smile, or possibly a knowing smirk.
— Benjamin Sutton