As the perfect introduction to Dutch art for newcomers to the Netherlands and a must-see for explorers looking to experience the best art exhibitions around, we’ve picked out some masterpieces in Haarlem that you should seek out when in the city.

See these masterpieces in Haarlem’s Frans Hals Museum:

Banquet of the Officers of the Civic Guard of St. George by Frans Hals

As Hals’ first group portrait and one of his biggest early successes in art, this painting marks an interesting point in Dutch art history. In his thirties and still a relatively unknown artist, Hals’ task of painting this group of civic guards in a theatrical style seemed almost impossible, but he managed to capture the relaxed atmosphere among the group of these fellow soldiers. A real success, it secured Hals a number of other commissions and paved the way for his success as a portrait painter.

Regentesses of the Old Men's Almshouse by Frans Hals

Incredibly, Hals painted this when he was around 80 years old. Depicting a group of regents who live in a home for men over the age of 60, its lack of finishing is indicative of the loose style that Hals’ embraced in his later years. Though officially dated 1664, there isn’t any archival evidence to confirm exactly when it was completed. Regentesses of the Old Men's Almshouse is an example of a genre known as regents group portrait, part of the Dutch Golden Age paintings. Regents sat on the board of directors of charitable organisations.

Line of trees in Marshy Landscape – Piet Mondrian

Line of Trees in Marshy Landscape by Thijs Quispel

Piet Mondrian is best-known for his primary-coloured grid paintings, but earlier in his career he embraced a subtler approach that was influenced by the realist-influenced Hague School of painting. Line of trees in Marshy Landscape depicts a farmhouse on the river Gein, southeast of Amsterdam, and manages to capture the Netherlands’ unique light. The trees above and the marshy water below form a horizontal ellipse, a visual theme Mondrian would also use in his iconic abstract paintings.

Vanitas Still Life - Adriaen van Nieulandt

A painting with a deathly theme, Vanitas Still Life depicts a skull, nearly expired candle and wilting flower, musing on the fleeting nature of life. A vanitas painting impresses on the viewer the brevity of earthly existence and the transience of material things, and this example of the form is likely to stay with you long after you’ve seen it.

Frans Hals and The Moderns - While it might sound like a catchy band name, this exhibition is actually a tribute to the influence Hals had and continues to have on other artists more than 200 years after his death. From Van Gogh to Manet, Max Liebermann and Singer Sargent, Hals’ loose style and approach to painting have inspired so many that followed him. During this unique exhibit, you’ll be able to see the impact that Hals’ had on other artists firsthand, as his paintings are displayed alongside reactions to his work from other major eras in art. 

Frans Hals and The Moderns highlights:

Mrs Ernest Hill (Constance Malanie Wynne-Roberts) - John Singer Sargent

An American artist who spent most of his life in Europe, this is one of the more stunning of Singer Sargent’s portraits, capturing the lively presence of the subject so clearly that the painting seems to almost come alive. In a time when artistic individuality and Impressionism were the status quo, Sargent chose to focus keenly on realism.

Postman Joseph Roulin - Vincent van Gogh

Letters were extremely important to Van Gogh, his primary means of communicating with loved ones as he spiralled into depression and isolation. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that he made numerous paintings and sketches of postman Joseph Roulin, one of Van Gogh’s best friends who lived on the same street as him in Arles in the South of France.

Frans Hals Museum, Groot Heiligland 62. Buy tickets.

See these masterpieces in Haarlem’s Teylers Museum

Study of the Face of a Young Woman - Leonardo da Vinci

Considered by some to be as impressive a drawing as Mona Lisa is a painting, this work will form part of a larger exhibit at the Teylers Museum to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Italian master Da Vinci’s death. Study of the Face of a Young Woman – which is possibly a study for the painting Virgin of the Rocks that hangs in the Louvre in Paris – might be a standout, but the whole exhibition will provide a rare opportunity to intimately experience Da Vinci’s sketches, which frequently featured everyday people he plucked from the street, rather than models.

De verkwikking - Jozef Israëls

A leading member of the Hague School painters and one of the most famous Dutch artists, Jozef Israëls was fascinated by the tragedy and beauty of the simple life of the working classes – including the fishermen he encountered while recovering from a disease in the fishing village of Zandvoort. In De verkwikking (or ‘The Refreshment’ in English), he depicts a peasant woman taking a sip from a steaming mug in her home.  Israëls use of warm colours and light-dark effects were compared with those of Rembrandt.

Rembrandt’s self-portraits

The most important figure in Dutch art, Rembrandt’s peerless vision and impact on painting is still felt to this day. And one of the best ways to get to know this unique artist is to study his numerous self-portraits, which create a visual diary. You can use this to trace the development of his art (as well as his age). At turns serious, commanding and mischievous, Rembrandt’s self-portraits are an excellent example of capturing character through drawing.  

Avondstond op zee - Hendrik Willem Mesdag

A luminous example of the Hague School painters, this painting is one of Mesdag’s finest works, which often depicted scenes of ships headed out to sea or coming in to dock. Mesdag, who was also a keen collector of art, is most famous for his Panorama Mesdag van Scheveningen, that is exhibited at the Zeestraat in The Hague.

Teylers Museum, Spaarne 16

Have time to spare in Haarlem? See our 10-hour suggested itinerary for inspiration