The Radvila Palace Museum of the LNMA invites its visitors to meet Frans Hals’ painting masterpieces individually  

13 February – 26 May, 2024

From 13 February, The Radvila Palace Museum of the LNMA invites its visitors to see a unique exhibition A Room of the Masterpiece. Frans Hals’s Evangelists from Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art. The visitors will encounter, individually, the portraits of St Luke and St Matthew, the works by the 17th century portrait painter Frans Hals brought over from Ukraine. The audiovisual and multimedia setting of the display will immerse the viewers into the context of creation of these masterpieces.    


“The viewers will be able to spend time with the original works undisturbed and focus all their attention on them. Such an experience is a great luxury and pleasure in our hectic contemporary life, while the display of these ingenious art pieces, reaching us in such unusual circumstances, and displayed in our special Room of a Masterpiece, I believe, is a present to every art-lover,” Dr Arūnas Gelūnas, director general of the LNMA, and the mastermind of the idea of the exhibition, invites the visitors into a close and personal acquaintance with the masterpieces of world art.   


“The portraits of the evangelists by Frans Hals hold a special place in the context of Hals’s oeuvre, but not only. They are special in terms of discovery and attribution, too. With this exhibition we wanted to present these pieces not only in the light of art history and as museum objects, but to invite the viewers to look at them differently. A large interdisciplinary team organized of theatre, music and design professionals, including digital content design, have constructed an immersive space for a vis-à-vis meeting with the original artwork, and for an appreciation of them at their own pace. This process has also revealed some new and unexpected facets in the life of the painter and his masterpieces,” Justina Augustytė, director the Radvila Palace of the LNMA, says.  



First in the world: the display of a Masterpiece Room – a solitary encounter with the paintings by an artist of genius  


The exhibition A Room of the Masterpiece. Frans Hals’s Evangelists from Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art is a unique opportunity to contemplate these pieces of art under exceptional conditions. The special space, Room for a Masterpiece, invented with deliberation and diligence by stage director Paulius Markevičius, playwright Birutė Kapustinaitė and composer Andrius Šiuras, together with other members of a broad team of architects, designers, art theorists will function as a stage of sorts where the works of art, like actors, will make their appearance to each individual viewer. The museum space thus designed is first in Lithuania, and not only: it is first in the world.  


“The first masterpiece to be given such a presentation has been provided by the fate itself. We had our eye on the Evangelists by Frans Hals, the genius of the Dutch Golden Age a while ago and intended to ask our dear colleagues from Odessa Western and Eastern Art Museum for a loan. The beginning of the Russian aggression on Ukraine altered the plan, and we have not borrowed, but, in fact, evacuated the paintings from the war zone. Our heartfelt gratitude goes to Mr. Igor Poronyk, director of the museum, and to his colleagues, for entrusting us with a temporary care at our museum of their invaluable masterpieces. It also became a brilliant opportunity to the Lithuanian public and to visitors of Lithuania to see the artwork by Frans Hals, one of the best masters of portraiture of all times, so intimately and individually,” the head of the LNMA A. Gelūnas says.  



Frans Hals – the first painter of human smiles  


Frans Hals (~1582–1666) who lived and worked in the then center of Haarlem is one of the most famous painters of the Dutch Golden Age, often, due to his manner of painting, titled a master of a loose brushwork.  


From the very outset of his career Hals found fame as a talented portrait painter and attracted plentiful clients. The artist mainly produced portraits of the middle-class burgers, scholars, culture figures or group portraits of the civic organizations, yet he was fascinated with the sitters from a much broader spectrum. Hals created portraits of the poorer people loading them with the exuberant emotions of a captured moment. The painter did not shun humor, irony and even social or moral criticism in his art.   


Frans Hals, known as a true Haarlem patriot, was occupied in other activities, he worked as a restorer, traded in art works, and was a member of the volunteer local militia company, or the civic guard of Haarlem (schutterij in Dutch). He was deeply involved in civic matters, winning himself a recognition and respect of his fellow citizens.  


The genre of portraiture was already set into an established canon during Hals’s lifetime: a portrait was perceived as a detailed immortalizing of a person, a static representation of the human figure on canvas. Hals reformed the genre introducing vitality and emotion. He was the first to depict people laugh.  


Works on religious subjects were exceptionally rare in Hals’s oeuvre. Perhaps the sole example of the kind to have reached our times are the portraits of four evangelists, the spreaders of the Gospel: St Luke, St Matthew, St Mark and St John painted in oil on canvas around 1625. The portrait studies of the saints, surrounded by the aura characteristic of religious art, including the usual for Christian iconography symbols of the evangelists, are also fascinating in their vitality that Hals’s usually infused his character with, and their very human appearance. The spirituality and concentration the evangelists radiate with, are subtly married with the artist’s typical deft, dynamic brushwork, and the play of warm light as well as his warm, ochre-dominated colour-scheme.    



The crime story of the portraits of St Luke and St Matthew  


With the start of full-scale military attack on Ukraine, the portraits of St Luke and St Matthew from the series of four evangelists, were evacuated from Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art and brought to the LNMA storage facilities. Of the other two portraits of the apostles, St John is in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and St Mark in Pushkin Fine Art Museum in Moscow.  


The two portraits now on display in the Room of a Masterpiece of the LNMA reached the collection of the Odessa Museum in 1920 as works by an unknown 19th century artist. It was only in 1959, when the internationally recognized expert in the Dutch painting Irina Linnik attributed these paintings, on sufficient grounds, to the Dutch portraiture master Frans Hals.  


In 1620, the series was bought at the auction in Amsterdam in the name of Catherine II of Russia and brought to St Petersburg. These paintings were included into the collection of the Imperial Hermitage and described as “undistinguished in any way”, and assigned inventory numbers of the Hermitage, still visible in the lower right corner of the paintings.  


In the 19th century, the paintings were transferred to decorate the churches in the Crimean Peninsula, yet during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century, the series was scattered. Until the 20th century, the canvases were thought to be lost. In the 1920s, two of the paintings, the portraits of St Luke and St Matthew, at described as 19th-century paintings by an unknown painter, found their way into the storage rooms of the Museum of Western and Eastern art in Odessa.  


In 1965, these two paintings were on display at the Pushkin Fine Art Museum in Moscow, but one morning the frame of St Luke’s painting was found empty – the canvas was cut out and stolen. The search for the paintings went for half a year, eventually the thief gave in himself by his own mistake, offering, on the street, to buy the painting to an individual related to security structures. The thief was caught, and the painting restored. In 1970, a crime movie The Return of St Luke was made based on the story.   


The portraits of St John and St Mark, which found way into private collections in the West, were also thought to be lost. In 1972, a painting titled A Man with a Beard ascribed to Luca Giordano, 2nd-half-of-17th century artist, was presented at the London auction. Claus Grimm, a German art researcher specializing in Frans Hals, initiated an analysis and examination of the painting. When it was finished, it was found to be a signed painting of Frans Hals. In 2013, the canvas was transferred from the private collection to the Pushkin Fine Art Museum in Moscow. The portrait of St John was the last one to appear, in 1997, at the Sotheby’s Auction in London. It was tracked down by the British art researcher Brian Sewell to be a private collection, Sewell also established it was a work by Frans Hals. The painting was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum.  


The story, worth a crime novel, of the attribution of these four paintings, is considered one of the major discoveries of the art research of the 20th century. Two of these paintings are waiting for the visitors in the Room of a Masterpiece from 10 February.  


Tickets to the exhibition for a selected time slot can be purchased online [] or at the south wing ticket office of the Radvila Palace Museum of the LNMD.   




The design team of the Room of a Masterpiece:  
Concept of the exhibition by Dr Arūnas Gelūnas 
Coordinator Skaistis Mikulionis 
Stage director Paulius Markevičius 
Playwright Birutė Kapustinskaitė 
Composer Andrius Šiurys 

Architect Aleksandras Kavaliauskas 

Furniture piece design by Vytautas Gečas 

Display graphic design by Vytautas Volbekas and Valentin Duduk 
Visual content by Tomas Vasiliauskas and Gražvydas Zujus 
Programmer Paulius Kšivickis 
3D modelling by Jokūbas Bernotas and Ingrida Kazėnaitė 
AV engineers Vytis Dėnas, Gintautas Rimeikis 
2D animation by BreadBakers  
Character movement animation by Jonas Balakauskas  

Exhibition organized together with Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art 

Exhibition patron: Minister of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania Simonas Kairys  


Partners: Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in Ukraine, Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania in the Republic of Poland, Ukrainian Embassy in the Republic of Lithuania, Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union, Customs of the Republic of Lithuanian, Ukrainian Patrol Police   

Exhibition supported by: Lithuanian Council for Culture  
General supporter: AAS BTA Baltic Insurance Company 

Supported by: AD REM, Kostiantyn Ostrogsk Foundation, Baleboste, Heat Transfers Company 

Information support:  JC Decaux  

Special gratitude to: Valdas Dovydėnas, Mirijana Kozak, Narimantas Savickas, Stanislav Vidtmann 


Gratitude to: performers of Duettissimo, violinist Dalia Dėdinskaitė and cellist Gleb Pyšniak 

Radvila Palace Museum of Art,
24 Vilniaus st, LT-01402, Vilnius, Lithuania
+370 5 250 5824