|Self-Portrait, ca. 1625|
As early as 1609, when only in his eleventh year, he had shown enough promise in art to be placed as a pupil in the studio of Hendrik Van Balen, a well-known painter of repute at Antwerp, a friend of Rubens, and the master of Snyders. By 1615 he had advanced sufficiently to be able to set up for himself in a house, ‘den Dom van Keulen’ in the Lange Minderbroeder Straat, which he seems to have shared with his friend, Jan Brueghel, the younger. Two lawsuits in 1616 and 1617, respecting family affairs, show that he was living in a separate establishment from his father. Here he painted a series of heads of Christ and the twelve apostles, and it is recorded that the engraver, Pieter de Jode, the elder, uncle to Brueghel, sat for one of the apostles. Van Dyck even at this date had pupils, one of whom, Servaes, copied this set of ‘Apostles.’ These thirteen paintings were exhibited in the house of a picture-dealer at Antwerp, and attracted much notice, especially from painters, including the great and, at the time, omnipotent Rubens. Two of the set are now in the Dresden Gallery with two of the copies, and others can be traced in the galleries at Schleissheim and elsewhere. It does not appear that Van Dyck ever was actually a pupil of Rubens, although it would be impossible for a young painter at that date, especially for one working in Van Balen's studio, to avoid being educated in the all-prevailing methods and style of Rubens, who had swept away all the pre-existing canons of art. Two portraits in the Dresden Gallery, dated 1618, by Van Dyck, have often been ascribed to Rubens. Another in the Brussels Gallery, dated 1619, still bears the latter's name. In February of that year Van Dyck was admitted to the freedom of the guild of St. Luke at Antwerp, an unusual honour for so young an artist. His earliest historical work seems to have been a ‘Christ bearing the Cross,’ one of a long series of pictures illustrating the ‘Passion’ in the Dominican (now St. Paul's) church at Antwerp. He painted some early portraits of himself, in which he appears beardless, with wavy chestnut hair falling about his forehead, and delicate rather feminine features. One of these is in the National Gallery. A portrait of a boy by Van Dyck in the academy at Vienna perhaps represents him at a still earlier age. In 1619 Van Dyck was working in close relations with Rubens, who practically monopolised the whole patronage of art in the Netherlands at that date. The precision of his drawing is shown by his being specially employed by Rubens to make the drawings from Rubens's paintings for reproduction by the engravers, who were then working under Rubens's direction. A series of six cartoons by Rubens for tapestry, representing the history of the consul, Decius Mus, was carried out in oils by Van Dyck, and is now in the Liechtenstein collection at Vienna. Early in 1620, when Rubens received a commission for thirty large paintings from the Jesuit order in Antwerp, it was stipulated that a large part of the preliminary work, usually done by Rubens's assistants, should be entrusted to Van Dyck, and one picture is wholly his work. A well-attested anecdote narrates that on one occasion, during the absence of Rubens, his pupils got access to his studio, when a painting, on which Rubens was then engaged, was accidentally damaged. In dismay, they could not think of any one among them, except Van Dyck, who could venture to repair the damage. This he did, but did not deceive Rubens, who, however, thought so highly of Van Dyck's work that he allowed it to remain. From his earliest days his work shows a breadth and certainty, which he maintained throughout. That Van Dyck's reputation already stood very high is shown by a letter in July 1620 from a correspondent in Antwerp to the art-collector, Thomas Howard, second earl of Arundel [q. v.], in which it is said that Van Dyck is always with Rubens, and that, as he was the son of wealthy parents, it would be difficult to persuade him to leave Antwerp. By November, however, in the same year, Van Dyck appears to have yielded to the persuasion of the earl or perhaps the Countess of Arundel, for Sir Tobie Matthew [q. v.] writes to Sir Dudley Carleton [q. v.] that Van Dyck had gone into England, and that the king had given him a pension of 100l. per annum. On 26 Feb. 1620–1 payment of 100l. was made to Van Dyck for special service performed for his majesty. It is uncertain what this service was. James I seems to have cared little for any form of art but portraiture, and it was probably for portraits of the king and queen (then lately dead) and their children, including perhaps the deceased Prince Henry, that Van Dyck's services were required. A full-length portrait of James I, now in St. George's Hall at Windsor Castle, has always been ascribed to Van Dyck, and has the appearance of having been executed by him. It does not, however, seem to have been taken from life, and from a note by George Vertue [q. v.] in one of his diaries it would appear that it was an enlarged copy from a limning. Two days after the date of this order for payment Van Dyck received, as his majesty's servant, a pass to travel for eight months, the permission being due apparently to his friend and patron, the Earl of Arundel. Van Dyck painted Arundel more than once, and it seems probable that one of these portraits at least (engraved by W. Hollar) was painted during this visit to England. That Van Dyck's absence from England and the royal service was intended to be temporary would appear from the wording of this pass. It does not seem likely, however, that he returned. The journey to be made was probably that to Italy, the goal of all northern artists, with the wonders of which Arundel was well acquainted, and where Rubens himself had spent much time with great profit at Genoa, Mantua, Rome, and elsewhere. Rubens, who seems always to have taken the most kindly interest in Van Dyck's welfare, no doubt urged on him the importance of going to Italy. Van Dyck had had many opportunities of studying the fine collection of Italian paintings and works of art stored in Rubens's house, and had already been deeply affected there by the works of Titian and other great artists of the Venetian school. He had, however, by this time developed a style of his own, which, although based upon that of Rubens, was marked by a restraint and refinement, which, if it lacked the strength, was also wanting in the somewhat boisterous exuberance of his master. Rubens is, without any ground, said to have been jealous of Van Dyck, and to have advised him to confine his art to portraits and animals. This advice, if really given, would be nothing more than the advice of a master, whose knowledge of his art was supreme, to a pupil, whose future was uncertain, and who seemed likely to devote himself to a branch of art in which, if sure to succeed, he was not likely to excel, rather than follow out the true bent of his genius. In reality the two painters were the best of friends. Van Dyck presented Rubens with portraits of himself and his wife, Isabella Brant, and also with a fine picture of ‘The Betrayal of Christ,’ now in the Prado Gallery of Madrid. Rubens is said to have given Van Dyck the best horse in his stables for his journey.
|Self-Portrait with a Sunflower, ca. 1633|
In December 1625 Van Dyck was still absent from his home, but appears to have started on his journey back. His movements, however, during the next two years are uncertain. He seems to have returned by Aix, where he visited and painted the famous writer and savant Peiresc, and he probably also visited Paris, a well-known portrait of François Langlois dit Ciartres, the art publisher, playing the bagpipes (in the possession of Mr. Garnett), being probably due to this visit. The exact date of his return to Antwerp seems uncertain. There is no certain proof of his being there before March 1628, when he made his will, but it seems likely that he may have returned as early as January 1626.
|(Last-known) Self-Portrait, 1640|
One of the most important sitters to Van Dyck, besides the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, was the exiled queen mother of France, Marie de Médicis, who, while in Antwerp, visited Van Dyck in his own house and was painted by him, as was her son Gaston, duc d'Orléans (full-length, in the collection of the Earl of Radnor). Good examples of Van Dyck's portrait-painting at this period to be found in English collections are Philippe le Roy and his wife (Hertford House), Cornelis van der Geest (National Gallery), the Burgomaster Triest (Earl Brownlow at Ashridge), the organist Liberti (Knole, Euston, and Munich), the Abbé Scaglia, a noted political intriguer (Dorchester House), and Frans Snyders, the painter (Castle Howard). On the continent attention may be drawn to the portraits of Snyders and his wife (Hermitage, St. Petersburg, and Cassel), the Prince of Pfalz-Neuburg and the Duke and Duchess of Croy (full-lengths, at Munich), Maria Luisa de Tassis (Liechtenstein collection, Vienna), Anna Wake (The Hague), and the president Richardot and his son (Louvre, Paris).
During this period also Van Dyck, besides employing the fine engravers of the Rubens school, tried his own hand at etching, with the result of producing a series of about twenty-two etchings, mostly portraits, including one of himself, which are ranked by all connoisseurs among the greatest treasures of the painter-etcher's art, the supreme gift of portraiture being linked with the most exquisite sense of the scope of that particular art. It would appear that during his voyage in Italy Van Dyck commenced a series of portrait studies in grisaille of his friends, especially artists, and the various eminent personages with whom from time to time he was brought into contact. He continued to make these studies at Antwerp and elsewhere, whenever the opportunity presented itself. When they amounted to a considerable number, Van Dyck seems to have thought of publishing them in engraving, and to have intended commencing the engravings himself by etching the heads before handing them over to the engravers for completion. The plates on which he etched these heads do not seem to have left his possession during his lifetime. Some of the portrait studies were, however, engraved and published by an Antwerp print-dealer, Martin van der Enden. After Van Dyck's death the whole collection seems to have passed to another print-dealer, Gilles Hendricx of Antwerp, who had Van Dyck's etchings completed as engravings, and published the whole series, rather over a hundred plates, in 1641 under the title of ‘Icones Principum, Virorum Doctorum, Pictorum, Chalcographorum, Statuariorum, nec non Amatorum pictoriæ artis numero centum ab Antonio Van Dyck pictore ad vivum expressæ ejusque sumptibus æri incisæ.’ From this title it is evident that this series, which is known as the ‘Centum Icones’ or ‘Iconographiæ’ of Van Dyck, was actually projected by him. The original studies in grisaille are dispersed among the collections of Europe, but no fewer than thirty-seven are in that of the Duke of Buccleuch at Montague House, Whitehall.
Meanwhile overtures were not wanting to induce Van Dyck to come back to England. Charles I had seen and acquired the portrait of Nicholas Lanier, brought home by that agent from Genoa. Arundel and Kenelm Digby added their attempts to persuade. It is possible that Van Dyck may have paid a short visit to England, and stayed at the house of his friend, George Geldorp [q. v.] in Drury Lane, but there is no proof of this other than the tradition of his having been Geldorp's guest. In 1629 Endymion Porter [q. v.], who was agent for Charles I in the Netherlands and became acquainted with Van Dyck, purchased from the painter at Antwerp a picture of ‘Rinaldo and Armida,’ which he brought over and delivered to the king. This is probably the picture now in the possession of the Duke of Newcastle at Clumber. Van Dyck painted Porter's portrait in 1631. In May 1631 he was in Antwerp, for he stood sponsor at the christening of a daughter of Lucas Vorsterman. Before the end of 1631 the overtures to Van Dyck had been so far successful that he seems to have seriously contemplated removing to England. According to a tradition handed down to Vertue from Remigius Van Leemput [q. v.], the painter, this was due to the Duke of Buckingham, who saw Van Dyck at Antwerp, and had his portrait painted by him. This portrait he showed to Charles I, who ordered Van Dyck to be sent for. He came and drew the portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria. This the king showed to Daniel Mytens [q. v.], then court painter, who at once asked leave to withdraw to his native land, since the king had got a better painter. Van Dyck asked leave to return and settle his affairs before coming to reside in England. The negotiations were, however, delayed by the shifty conduct of another political agent and artist, Sir Balthasar Gerbier [q. v.], who in December 1631 offered Lord-treasurer Weston for the king or queen a small painting by Van Dyck which he had bought in Brussels. Geldorp seems to have heard from Van Dyck that this picture was only a copy, and to have told the lord treasurer so. In consequence of this Van Dyck drew back and postponed his journey, which was ostensibly only to bring over the portraits of the Infanta and Marie de Médicis as presents to the king and queen. Instead of coming to England, Van Dyck seems to have gone into Holland and painted portraits at the court of Frederic Henry of Orange in the Hague. To this journey may be ascribed the famous visit to Frans Hals, with the picturesque exchange of portraits and compliments between the two painters, and also the full-length portrait of the young princes, Charles Louis and Rupert, sons of the exiled king and queen of Bohemia (at Vienna).
By April 1632 Van Dyck had arrived in London, and lodged with Edward Norgate [q. v.] in the Blackfriars. Charles I took immediate steps to find him a suitable lodging, consulted Inigo Jones upon the matter, paid Norgate's expenses, and finally assigned Van Dyck a house in the Blackfriars and apartments for the summer in the royal palace at Eltham in Kent. In the Blackfriars Van Dyck was the neighbour of Cornelius Janssen [q. v.] and other artists, who had selected that neighbourhood as being outside the jurisdiction of the guilds in the city of London. Charles I treated the painter with unusual honour. On 5 July 1632 Van Dyck was knighted at St. James's Palace, and is described as principal painter in ordinary to their majesties. The king bestowed on him a heavy gold chain, with the king's portrait set in brilliants, and this chain is conspicuous in Van Dyck's later portraits of himself. The king and queen were constant visitors to Van Dyck's studio, and a special landing-stage was erected at Blackfriars to allow of the royal party passing easily to the painter's house. Van Dyck now commenced a series of portraits of the royal family which in themselves would be sufficient to establish him in the front rank of painters. The earliest seems to have been the large group of the king and queen and their two children. This group is at Windsor Castle, where are also the great portrait of Charles I on horseback, attended by an equerry, of which other versions exist, a full-length of the king in royal robes, and the famous painting of the king's head in three positions, which was sent to the sculptor Bernini at Rome for him to make a bust from. Among the portraits of Henrietta Maria at Windsor are two said to have been ordered from Van Dyck for the same purpose. Elsewhere the most noteworthy portraits of the king and queen are the great equestrian portrait of Charles, formerly at Blenheim, and now in the National Gallery, the full-lengths of the king and queen, which have passed through the Wharton and Houghton collections to the Hermitage at St. Petersburg, and, above all, the famous portrait, ‘Le Roi à la Chasse,’ in the Louvre at Paris, which may safely be ranked among the finest portraits in the world. The portraits of the queen are very numerous and of varying excellence, but special note may be made of those at Longford Castle and at Dresden. The queen extended her patronage of Van Dyck so far as to send for his pastor-brother from the Netherlands to be one of her chaplains. The king gave him in 1633 a pension of 200l. per annum. In March 1634 Van Dyck returned to Antwerp, probably to settle certain family affairs, for he then gave his sister Susanna a deed of temporary power to administer his affairs, thus showing that he did not consider his stay in England to be a permanent one. At Antwerp he enjoyed the favour of the new regent, Don Ferdinand of Austria, whom he painted, and executed some other important works, such as the family of Count John of Nassau (at Panshanger), and the Prince of Carignan-Savoy (at Berlin). He remained more than a year in the Netherlands, and painted at Brussels, among other works, an immense picture of the magistrates of that city in session, which was unfortunately destroyed by fire at a later date. He did not return to England until the end of 1635, when he resumed his duties to the court and nobility until the middle of 1640. It was in these years that he executed the greater part of those works which are scattered among the mansions of the nobility in England and in the royal palaces, including the well-known groups of the children of the king and queen, first the three children in 1635, and then the five in 1637. There is hardly any noble family of antiquity in England which does not boast of an ancestor painted by Van Dyck. Standing as they did on the brink of the civil wars, the gallant cavaliers and fair ladies of the court form a regiment of youth and beauty, of dignity and heroism, that has never been rivalled elsewhere, and are in themselves a history of their time, written from one point of view. Whether singly, a host too innumerable to deal with here, in pairs, such as the Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart (at Cobham Hall), the Lords Digby and Bedford (at Althorp), the Strafford and his secretary (at Wentworth Woodhouse), the Carew and Killigrew (at Windsor), in family groups, such as the Herbert family (at Wilton), or great ladies, such as the famous Countesses of Carlisle, Bedford, and Leicester (at Petworth), the galaxy of Van Dyck's portraits has continued to entrance the world. It is small wonder that the cause of the cavaliers has ever been dear to the lovers of beauty and romance, and that Charles I's faults and weaknesses have been redeemed in their sight by the fascinating melancholy of his face as portrayed by Van Dyck.
Considering that Van Dyck's working residence in England was only about six years and a half, and that a large part of this time was taken up by commissions for the court, it is obviously impossible that the immense number of portraits, with their innumerable repetitions, which are credited to him, should have been entirely the work of his own hand. Fortunately Jabach, an art amateur and dealer of Cologne, has left a record of Van Dyck's method: how he gave each sitter a fixed period for a sitting, and, after making notes of the costume and draperies, handed the portrait and his notes to his assistants to complete. When the portrait neared its finish he went over the whole himself, and it is therefore difficult, in the case of many versions of the same portrait of equal excellence, to declare that any one is actually the original. Many of Van Dyck's drawings of this kind are to be found in the British Museum, the Louvre, and other public collections. He is said always to have received his sitters richly dressed himself. Throughout his life in England Van Dyck lived a life of wealth and luxury. He was always super-sensitive to the charms of the fair sex, and while he resided at Blackfriars and Eltham he was never out of women's toils. One fair lady, Margaret Lemon by name, ruled his house, and he has left some most attractive portraits of her. Even his own wealth could not cope with the extravagance of his living, and save him from haggling with the king about his ill-paid pension, or driving hard bargains with his lady sitters. At last the king and queen found him a wife among the ladies of the court, Mary, daughter of Patrick Ruthven, granddaughter of the Earl of Gowrie, and related to some of the ruling families in the land. Van Dyck agreed willingly to the marriage, which took place in 1640, much to the anger of his mistress, who is said to have tried to mutilate his right hand, with which he painted. The cloud of civil war was, however, beginning to darken the horizon. The payments from the royal exchequer became more irregular. Van Dyck's health began to suffer from his life of combined pleasure and hard work. He is said also to have injured his health in the study of alchemy, probably in company with his friend, Sir Kenelm Digby [q. v.] He was disappointed in a scheme which he had drawn out for decorating the banqueting-hall at Whitehall with a procession of the knights of the Garter (his original sketch is at Belvoir Castle). His portraits of himself in later years show the face of a delicate voluptuary. One well-known portrait, in which the painter points to a sunflower, probably indicates the vicissitudes of his fortunes.
In June 1640 Rubens died at Antwerp, leaving his school of painters and engravers without a head, and numerous commissions, including a series of paintings for the king of Spain, unfinished. The only painter capable of filling his place was Van Dyck. In September 1640 he left England for Antwerp, where he was invited to complete the pictures for the king of Spain. This Van Dyck declined to do, though he offered to paint fresh ones himself. He fully intended to return permanently to Antwerp, but early in 1641 he went to Paris, hearing that there was a project for the decoration of the Louvre, and hoping to obtain such a commission as Rubens had secured in the case of the Luxembourg palace. In this endeavour, however, he was frustrated by the work being entrusted to the native painters, Simon Vouet and Nicolas Poussin. In November 1641, broken in health and spirits, Van Dyck returned to London. On 1 Dec. his wife gave birth to a daughter at Blackfriars. On 4 Dec. Van Dyck made a fresh will. On the 9th, the same day that his daughter Justiniana was baptised, the great painter died in his house at Blackfriars, aged 42 years, eight months, and seventeen days. On the 11th he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, near the tomb of John of Gaunt, where a monument was erected to his memory; but both grave and monument were destroyed by the great fire in 1666. In his will he provides for his newly born daughter, and also for an illegitimate daughter, Maria Theresa, born at Antwerp apparently before he went to Italy. His sister Susanna was appointed guardian to the infant.
Van Dyck's widow married Sir Richard Pryse, bart., of Gogerddan in Wales, and died in 1645. Justiniana married, in 1653, when only twelve years old, Sir John Baptist Stepney, bart., of Pendergast, Pembrokeshire. She appears to have inherited her father's art of painting, and is known to have painted a picture of the ‘Crucifixion’ which excited some attention. In 1660 she and her husband were received into the Roman catholic church at Antwerp, where her three daughters afterwards became béguines, like their aunts. Her son, Sir Thomas Stepney, was the ancestor of Sir Arthur E. Cowell-Stepney, bart. (d. 1909). At the Restoration Lady Stepney claimed the renewal of her father's pension, and succeeded in her suit. Maria Theresa, the illegitimate daughter of Van Dyck, married, in 1641, the year of her father's death, Gabriel Essers Drossart van Bouchout of Antwerp, and her children assumed the name of Essers Van Dyck.
The whole course of painting in England was altered by the brilliant career and achievements of Van Dyck. He destroyed the somewhat hard and narrow traditions of portraiture which had obtained before, and established a principle by which nearly all his successors in England have been guided. His merits as an historical painter have received less recognition in England, and even at Antwerp and elsewhere on the continent they have been overshadowed by the overwhelming and colossal genius of Rubens. In many ways his sacred and mythological paintings are in strong contrast to his master's in their sober and refined key of colour, their freedom from violent or contorted action, and the delicate shrinking from the nude or the more fleshly aspect of his art. As a portrait-painter Van Dyck may lack the precision of Holbein or tender intimacy of Cornelius Janssen, the directness and amazing technical skill of Velazquez or Frans Hals, the mysterious pathos of Rembrandt; but in his own manner he reigns supreme, and his genius needs no interpreter. It is curious that in England, where his fame ranks so high, Van Dyck's works can be studied only with difficulty, since they are so widely dispersed. Windsor, Petworth, and The Grove (the seat of the Earl of Clarendon), all have several fine examples. Better opportunities are afforded by the superb collections at Antwerp, Paris, Madrid, Munich, Cassel, Vienna, and at St. Petersburg, where, in the Hermitage Gallery, is the series of full-lengths painted by Van Dyck for Philip, fourth baron Wharton [q. v.], the finest works of his latest years. The National Gallery possesses but five pictures of importance, and the National Portrait Gallery only one.
[Carpenter's Pictorial Notices of Van Dyck, 1844; Michiel's Rubens et l'Ecole d'Anvers; F. van den Branden's Geschiedenis der Antwerpsche Schilderschool; Guiffrey's Antoine Van Dyck et son Œuvre; Van Dyck by P. R. Head, 1879, and by Lionel Cust, 1900, 1903; Smith's Cat. Raisonné of the Works; Hymans's ‘Van Dyck’ in the Encyclopædia Britannica (9th ed.); Cunningham's ‘Van Dyck in England’ in the Builder, 1864; Woltmann and Woermann's Geschichte der Malerei; Menotti's ‘Van Dyck in Genoa’ in Archivio Storico dell' Arte, 1897; Néve's Notes sur quelques Portraits de la Galerie d'Arenberg; Catalogues of chief galleries in England and on the Continent; Cat. of the Van Dyck Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, 1887; De Piles's Lives of the Painters; Max Rooses' Rubens et son Œuvre; Wibiral's Iconographie d'Antoine Van Dyck; Rathgeber's Annalen der niederländischen Malerei, &c.; manuscript notes by the late Sir G. Scharf, K.C.B.; information kindly supplied by Mons. Henri Hymans of Brussels.]
|Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 58|
Van Dyck, Anthony