Listening to Art

05.03: Frans Hals, The Laughing Cavalier

Download (MP3).

Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume five, number three: The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals.

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

You know this painting. As Seymour Slive says in Frans Hals (p. 25):

The Laughing Cavalier is one of the most familiar characters in the history of Western painting. In a way this is unfortunate. Because we have known him since our youth it is difficult to take him seriously. He is, however, worth earnest attention, for there are excellent reasons for his popularity. He is a man with whom men can identify when they are in a Walter Mitty mood and one whom women would like to meet. The Laughing Cavalier is also one of the most brilliant seventeenth-century portraits. It shows Hals’s unprecedented ability to convey in a portrait a sense of heightened vitality and spontaneity enlightened by silvery daylight.

The Laughing Cavalier hangs in the Great Gallery at the Wallace Collection in London, the same room as Nicolas Poussin’s A Dance to the Music of Time, which we heard in volume two, number six.

In its online catalogue, the Wallace Collection says:

By the early nineteenth century, Hals’s reputation had fallen into relative obscurity. Despite this, the portrait became the object of a furious bidding battle between the 4th Marquess of Hertford and Baron James de Rothschild at a Paris auction in 1865. It was acquired by Lord Hertford for the princely sum of 51.000 francs (about £2,040), an event which proved to be a turning point in the artist’s critical reputation. At the Royal Academy exhibition of 1888, the painting was exhibited with the title ‘The Laughing Cavalier’ … [a]lthough the sitter is neither laughing nor a cavalier.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 67.3 cm wide by 83 cm high.

Now let’s listen to The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals, recorded at the Wallace Collection, in London, England, on 21 December 2017.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Denton, William. “Nicolas Poussin, A Dance to the Music of Time.” Listening to Art 02, no. 06 (01 February 2018).

Wallace Collection. “The Laughing Cavalier.” Wallace Collection Online.

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

Wikipedia, s.v. “Frans Hals,”

⸻, s.v. “Laughing Cavalier,”