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Sir Anthony Van Dyck
Baroque

Sir Anthony Van Dyck

Flemish ( 1599 - 1641 )

Sir Anthony van Dyck (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 ofKing 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.

Antoon Van Dyck (his Flemish name) was born to prosperous parents in Antwerp. His talent was evident very early, and he was studying painting with Hendrick van Balen by 1609, and became an independent painter around 1615, setting up a workshop with his even younger friend Jan Brueghel the Younger. By the age of fifteen he was already a highly accomplished artist, as his Self-portrait, 1613-14, shows. He was admitted to the Antwerp painters' Guild of Saint Luke as a free master by February 1618. Within a few years he was to be the chief assistant to the dominant master of Antwerp, and the whole of Northern Europe, Peter Paul Rubens, who made much use of sub-contracted artists as well as his own large workshop. His influence on the young artist was immense, Rubens referred to the nineteen-year-old van Dyck as "the best of my pupils". The origins and exact nature of their relationship are unclear, it has been speculated that Van Dyck was a pupil of Rubens from about 1613, as even his early work shows little trace of van Balen's style, but there is no clear evidence for this.

At the same time the dominance of Rubens in the small and declining city of Antwerp probably explains why, despite his periodic returns to the city, van Dyck spent most of his career abroad. In 1620, in the Rubens' contract for the major commission for the ceiling of the Jesuit church at Antwerp (now destroyed), van Dyck is specified as one of the "discipelen" who was to execute the paintings to Rubens' designs.

After about four months he returned to Flanders, but moved on in late 1621 to Italy, where he remained for 6 years, studying the Italian masters and beginning his career as a successful portraitist. He was already presenting himself as a figure of consequence, annoying the rather bohemian Northern artist's colony in Rome, says Bellori, by appearing with "the pomp of Xeuxis ... his behaviour was that of a nobleman rather than an ordinary person, and he shone in rich garments, since he was accustomed in the circle of Rubens to noblemen, and being naturally of elevated mind, and anxious to make himself distinguished, he therefore wore - as well as silks - a hat with feathers and brooches, gold chains across his chest, and was accompanied by servants.

Van Dyck had remained in touch with the English court, and had helped King Charles' agents in their search for pictures. He had also sent back some of his own works, including a portrait (1623) of himself with Endymion Porter, one of Charles's agents, a mythology (Rinaldo and Armida, 1629, now in the Baltimore Museum of Art), and a religious work for the Queen. He had also painted Charles's sister, Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia in the Hague in 1632. In April that year, van Dyck returned to London, and was taken under the wing of the court immediately, being knighted in July and at the same time receiving a pension of £200 per year, in the grant of which he was described as principalle Paynter in ordinary to their majesties. He was well paid for paintings in addition to this, at least in theory, as King Charles I did not actually pay over his pension for five years, and reduced the price of many paintings. He was provided with a house on the river at Blackfriars, then just outside the City and hence avoiding the monopoly of the Painters Guild. A suite of rooms in Eltham Palace, no longer used by the Royal family, was also provided as a country retreat. His Blackfriars studio was frequently visited by the King and Queen (later a special causeway was built to ease their access), who hardly sat for another painter whilst van Dyck lived.

In England he developed a version of his style which combined a relaxed elegance and ease with an understated authority in his subjects which was to dominate English portrait-painting to the end of the 18th century. Many of these portraits have a lush landscape background. His portraits of Charles on horseback updated the grandeur of Titian's Emperor Charles V, but even more effective and original is his portrait of Charles dismounted in the Louvre: "Charles is given a totally natural look of instinctive sovereignty, in a deliberately informal setting where he strolls so negligently that that he seems at first glance nature's gentleman rather than England's King". Although his portraits have created the classic idea of "Cavalier" style and dress, in fact a majority of his most important patrons in the nobility, such as Lord Wharton and the Earls of Bedford, Northumberland and Pembroke, took the Parliamentarian side in the English Civil War that broke out soon after his death.

Van Dyck became a "denizen", effectively a citizen, in 1638 and married Mary, the daughter of Lord Ruthven and a Lady in waiting to the Queen, in 1639-40, this may have been instigated by the King in an attempt to keep him in England. He had spent most of 1634 in Antwerp, returning the following year, and in 1640-41, as the Civil War loomed, spent several months in Flanders and France. In 1640 he accompanied prince John Casimir of Poland after he was freed from French imprisonment, he also painted the prince's portrait. He left again in the summer of 1641, but fell seriously ill in Paris and returned hurriedly to London, where he died soon after in his house at Blackfriars. He left a daughter each by his wife and mistress, the first only ten days old. Both were provided for, and both ended up living in Flanders.

He was buried in Old St. Paul's Cathedral.

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