Page 15 - Finding Van Dyck

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The four portraits that make up our first exhibits allow us to give
a basic demonstration of connoisseurship. They are all
of
Van
Dyck, but only one of them is
by
Van Dyck. By comparing how
four different artists painted the same face we will be able to see
some of the differences between a painting by Van Dyck and a
work by one of his followers.
Our first exhibit,
Cat.1
, is Van Dyck’s last self-portrait.
9
It was
acquired by this gallery in partnership with Dr Alfred Bader
in December 2009 for £8.3 million at Sotheby’s in London, a
record for the artist at auction. Self-portraits tend to stand out
amongst a painter’s
oeuvre
as some of their most compelling
works, and as an instructive connoisseurial guide in what an
unquestionably genuine and pre-eminent Van Dyck looks like,
Cat.1 takes some beating.
Immediately noticeable here is the overall composure of
the image. As with Van Dyck’s best portraits, the subject is
disarmingly real and vivid. It is a cliché, but take away the
slashed doublet and he could be amongst us today. As one
would expect from Rubens’ best pupil, the portrait manages,
despite its confined scale, to convey a sense of movement
and even humour which is pure baroque. We cannot see the
hand or the brush at the end of Van Dyck’s raised arm, but
we know it is there for he has effortlessly captured the twisted
pose necessary to paint himself whilst standing beside a mirror.
Surprisingly, this is the only self-portrait that comes close to
showing Van Dyck in the act of painting, and it was probably
for that reason that the picture became something of an icon
amongst Van Dyck’s artistic successors in England. It was
emulated soon after Van Dyck’s death by Samuel Cooper and
William Dobson in their own self-portraits (figs. 3 & 4).
Despite the fact that Cat.1 is painted with great rapidity, as
seen by the flashing strokes of white in the dress, the care and
finesse of the brushwork in the face is particularly assured. In
several areas we can see tell-tale signs of Van Dyck’s technique,
or more particularly the technique he employed towards the
end of his career. The flesh tones are boldly presented, merging
seamlessly from bright white to flushed pink, and with the use
of blues and greys beneath to create form and shadow. It is this
building up of paint layers, in a technique he consciously copied
not only from his master Rubens but also from Titian (as we shall
discuss below), which gives Van Dyck’s faces such weight and
depth. The final stages of modelling and detail were then applied
with more delicate and transparent glazes, as can be seen
around the eyes and mouth.
Chapter 2
Following Van Dyck
Image not available due to copyright
Fig.3: Samuel Cooper (1607/8–1672),
Self-portrait
, Royal Collection.
Fig.4 after William Dobson (1611–1646),
Self-portrait
, National Portrait Gallery,
London. Both Cooper & Dobson seem consciously to have followed Cat.1.
Van Dyck’s and Dobson’s self-portraits have identical frames, and were in the
same collection for over 300 years.
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Provenance:
possibly
, Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641), his estate; Sir Peter
Lely, (1618–1680), his sale 18th April 1682; bt. by Lord Newport, 1st Earl of
Bradford (1619–1708) for £34; Richard Graham (fl. 1695–1727) until sold in his
sale, Peletier London, 6 March 1712, lot 41; bt. by Sir Francis Child the Younger
(1684–1740); by descent to his nephew Robert Child (1739–1782) of Osterley
Park; by descent to his grand-daughter Lady Sarah Sophia Fane (1785–1867)
who married George Child-Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey and 8th Viscount Grandison
(1773–1859) of Osterley Park, Middlesex and Middleton Park, Oxfordshire; by
descent, until sold, Sotheby’s London, 4 December 2009, lot 8.
Image not available due to copyright