Listening to Art

05.02: Frans Hals, Portrait of a Seated Man

Download (MP3).

Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume five, number two: Portrait of a Seated Man by Frans Hals.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

Frans Hals was a Dutch painter who was born in 1582 or 1583 and died in 1666. Little is known about his life, but he is famous for his portraits. This one, painted around 1645, is the first of a series of three we will hear. I quote from the “extensively revised second edition” of Frans Hals by Seymour Slive (p. 19):

From the moment we recognize his hand until the end of his lengthy career Hals worked as a portrait specialist. Around four-fifths of his existing paintings are portraits and most of the rest can be classified as genre pictures with a portrait-like character. Men and women, and occasionally children—and more specifically their faces—were his principal subjects. There are four (perhaps six) paintings with biblical subjects … but there are no mythological or historical works, no nudes, no landscapes, no marine pictures, no architectural views, no still lifes. Specialization, in one category of painting or another, was to become the rule among most seventeenth-century Dutch painters. With the conspicuous exception of Rembrandt, they tended to limit their liability. Hals was the first artist to demonstrate that a painter who concentrated his efforts on a narrow field could earn a place in the pantheon dedicated to the greatest Western artists, although his place was not generally recognized until about two centuries after his death.

About this painting, which he calls Seated Man Holding a Branch, Slive says:

Its dark tonality and somber mood anticipate Hals’s final phase. The branch the man holds may have a symbolic meaning but, until it has been identified, its significance remains problematic.

This is a painting, oil on oak, 33 cm wide by 42.4 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Portrait of a Seated Man by Frans Hals, recorded at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, on 16 March 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Portrait of a Seated Man by Frans Hals. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

National Gallery of Canada. “Portrait of a Seated Man.” National Gallery of Canada.

Slive, Seymour. Frans Hals. 2nd ed. London: Phaidon, 2014.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Frans Hals,”