Listening to Art

05.04: Frans Hals, Isaac Abrahamsz. Massa


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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume five, number four: Isaac Abrahamsz. Massa by Frans Hals.

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

Isaac Abrahamszoon Massa was born in 1586 and died in 1643. He was a good friend of Hals, who painted this portrait in 1626. Massa lived a very interesting life—he was a merchant, diplomat, historian, geographer and cartographer—but the painting itself has quite a history.

It was stolen from what was then the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1959. On 15 September staff discovered there had been a break-in overnight and six paintings had been taken: two by Hals, two by Rembrandt, one by Rubens and one by Renoir. Two others, by Gainsborough and Van Dyck, had been damaged when the thieves tried to cut them out of their frames.

Hugh McLeave describes the theft in his book Rogues in the Gallery: The Modern Plague of Art Thefts (p. 40):

Somehow this art gang had operated within the gallery for at least an hour without touching the complex alarm system. ‘There were literally dozens of occasions when someone who didn’t know how the system worked would have set it off,’ commented the gallery director, Martin Baldwin. Obviously the thieves did, for they had tried to cut through a fire door rather than force it open and trigger the alarms. To get in, they had either hidden a man inside to open a window, or they had broken a small window and opened a larger one with a stick. That high window, they knew, had no alarm connections, giving as it did on Dundas Street, a main thoroughfare. However, someone must have risked his neck to reach it, since it meant a twenty-foot climb, using projecting bricks as hand and foot holds. A wet, windy night had kept people off the streets and covered their tracks. Once inside, they knew where to go and what to take.

Three weeks later the chief of police got a tip-off that the paintings were in a garage in Parkdale, a neighbourhood west of the gallery. As McLeave puts it, the chief “had his ideas about who had pulled off the raid; but if he denied having made a deal with the gang, he carefully avoided denying that the insurance company had paid a reward.”

Another interesting thing about the painting is that part of it is not by Hals. A landscape in the background was painted by another Dutch painter, Pieter Molyn.

This is a painting, oil on canvas, 65.1 cm wide by 79.7 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Isaac Abrahamsz. Massa by Frans Hals, recorded at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto, on 15 February 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Isaac Abrahamsz. Massa 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 listeningtoart.org.

Listening to Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Bibliography

All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Art Gallery of Ontario. “Isaac Abrahamsz. Massa.” Art Gallery of Ontairo. https://ago.ca/collection/object/54/31.

McLeave, Hugh. Rogues in the Gallery: The Modern Plague of Art Thefts. Boston: David R. Godine, 1981.

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

Wikipedia, s.v. “Frans Hals,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frans_Hals.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Isaac Massa,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Massa.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Portrait of Isaac Abrahamsz. Massa,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_Isaak_Abrahamsz._Massa.