Listening to Art

10.06: Frans Hals, Portrait of a Preacher

Download (MP3).

Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume ten, number six: Portrait of a Preacher by Frans Hals.

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

I quote from the conclusion of Frans Hals by Gerald S. Davies, published in 1904 (pp. 117–118):

We have used the word Genius in connection with Frans Hals, and this forces us to ask, Was Frans Hals a Genius? If we set him beside some of those colossi whom by common consent we recognize as Geniuses—Michelangelo, for example, or Shakespeare—we may think that his one great gift compares poorly with their many. But let it be remembered, that there is more than one kind of Genius. There is the many-sided Genius, comprehensive, all-embracing, such as the Michelangelo aforesaid; but there is also the one-line Genius, such as, for example, Nelson, who was indeed a Genius, if ever there was one, in his single department, but certainly in no other. And Hals was a Genius of this latter type—that is to say, if we admit that one of the marks by which we may discern Genius from Excellence lies in the fact that we can recognize—and genius can only be gauged instinctively, never by set definition—in its works an indefinable something which cannot be attained to by any amount of perseverance, or industry, or cultivation of gifts, no matter how good or worth having; nor by love, refinement, strength; nor by any of the qualities which go to make great painters, and yet do not constitute Genius. For Genius, though it is helped by all of these, and cannot do without them if it is to reach its greatest and give us of its greatest, yet is a something apart from, beyond, and in a sense above all these. It is always of the nature of an inspiration. It can be even seen and felt where it lacks, often sadly lacks, those other great supports.

Now if we apply this test to Frans Hals, we shall find him answer to it. There is in him always that same indefinable something which lifts him, even in his least pleasing and least worthy efforts, outside the region of the most excellent of whom excellence alone can be predicated. There were in Holland in the days of the great Dutch School scores of men who painted a portrait excellently, with the soundest and most skilful technique, showing many qualities which had been brought to the highest point—in a word, good and even first-rate men. But set their portraits beside one of Hals’, and we shall see at once that Hals has indeed that aforesaid indefinable something—no man can say where it begins or where it ends, or of what it exactly consists—which claims for the Great Master of Haarlem, for the poor occupant of the grave in St. Bavon, the title of a Genius.

This is a painting, oil on wood, 30.2 cm wide by 36.2 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Portrait of a Preacher by Frans Hals, recorded while on tour from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto, on 13 September 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Portrait of a Preacher 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.

Davies, Gerald S. Frans Hals. London: George Bell and Sons, 1904.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. “Portrait of a Preacher.” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Frans Hals,”

Yale University Art Gallery. “Lecture 5: Frans Hals’s Portrait of a Preacher: Virtuosity and the Rough Style.” 23 February 2015. YouTube video, 59:09.