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Anthony van Dyck

1599 - 1641



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Sir Anthony van Dyck (many variant spellings; 22 March 1599 – 9 December 1641) was a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England. He is most famous for his portraits of King Charles I of England and Scotland and his family and court, painted with a relaxed elegance that was to be the dominant influence

Sir Anthony van Dyck (many variant spellings; 22 March 1599 – 9 December 1641) was a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England. He is most famous for his portraits of King Charles I of England and Scotland and his family and court, painted with a relaxed elegance that was to be the dominant influence on English portrait-painting for the next 150 years. He also painted biblical and mythological subjects, displayed outstanding facility as a draftsman, and was an important innovator in watercolour and etching.

With the partial exception of Holbein, van Dyck and his exact contemporary Diego Velázquez were the first painters of pre-eminent talent to work mainly as Court portraitists. The slightly younger Rembrandt was also to work mainly as a portraitist for a period. In the contemporary theory of the hierarchy of genres portrait-painting came well below history painting (which covered religious scenes also), and for most major painters portraits were a relatively small part of their output, in terms of the time spent on them (being small, they might be numerous in absolute terms). Rubens for example mostly painted portraits only of his immediate circle, but though he worked for most of the courts of Europe, he avoided exclusive attachment to any of them.
A variety of factors meant that in the 17th century demand for portraits was stronger than for other types of work. Van Dyck tried to persuade Charles to commission him to do a large-scale series of works on the history of the Order of the Garter for the Banqueting House, Whitehall, for which Rubens had earlier done the huge ceiling paintings (sending them from Antwerp).


A sketch for one wall remains, but by 1638 Charles was too short of money to proceed.[7] This was a problem Velázquez did not have, but equally van Dyck's daily life was not encumbered by trivial court duties as Velázquez's was. In his visits to Paris in his last years van Dyck tried to obtain the commission to paint the Grande Gallerie of the Louvre without success.

A list of history paintings produced by van Dyck in England survives, by Bellori, based on information by Sir Kenelm Digby; none of these still appear to survive, although the Eros and Psyche done for the King (below) does. But many other works, rather more religious than mythological, do survive, and though they are very fine, they do not reach the heights of Velázquez's history paintings. Earlier ones remain very much within the style of Rubens, although some of his Sicilian works are interestingly individual.

Van Dyck's portraits certainly flattered more than Velázquez's; when Sophia, later Electoress of Hanover, first met Queen Henrietta Maria, in exile in Holland in 1641, she wrote: "Van Dyck's handsome portraits had given me so fine an idea of the beauty of all English ladies, that I was surprised to find that the Queen, who looked so fine in painting, was a small woman raised up on her chair, with long skinny arms and teeth like defence works projecting from her mouth..." Some critics have blamed van Dyck for diverting a nascent tougher English portrait tradition, of painters such as William Dobson, Robert Walker and Issac Fuller into what certainly became elegant blandness in the hands of many of van Dyck's successors, like Lely or Kneller.[7] The conventional view has always been more favourable: "When Van Dyck came hither he brought Face-Painting to us; ever since which time ... England has excel'd all the World in that great Branch of the Art’ (Jonathan Richardson: An Essay on the Theory of Painting, 1715, 41). Thomas Gainsborough is reported to have said on his deathbed "We are all going to heaven, and Van Dyck is of the Company."

A fairly small number of landscape pen and wash drawings or watercolours made in England played an important part in introducing the Flemish watercolour landscape tradition to England. Some are studies, which reappear in the background of paintings, but many are signed and dated and were probably regarded as finished works to be given as presents. Several of the most detailed are of Rye, a port for ships to the Continent, suggesting that van Dyck did them casually whilst waiting for wind or tide to improve.

is great success compelled van Dyck to maintain a large workshop in London, a studio which was to become "virtually a production line for portraits". According to a visitor to his studio he usually only made a drawing on paper, which was then enlarged onto canvas by an assistant; he then painted the head himself. The clothes were left at the studio and often sent out to specialists. In his last years these studio collaborations accounted for some decline in the quality of work. In addition many copies untouched by him, or virtually so, were produced by the workshop, as well as by professional copyists and later painters; the number of paintings ascribed to him had by the 19th century become huge, as with Rembrandt, Titian and others. However, most of his assistants and copyists could not approach the refinement of his manner, so compared to many masters consensus among art historians on attributions to him is usually relatively easy to reach, and museum labelling is now mostly updated (country house attributions may be more dubious in some cases). The relatively few names of his assistants that are known are Dutch or Flemish; he probably preferred to use trained Flemings, as no English equivalent training yet existed. Adriaen Hanneman (1604–71) returned to his native Hague in 1638 to become the leading portraitist there.[30] Van Dyck's enormous influence of English art does not come from a tradition handed down through his pupils; in fact it is not possible to document a connection to his studio for any English painter of any significance


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