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Van Dyck


Anthony Van Dyck was a prolific and well sought-after painter of the 17th century. His unique style of portraiture, putting his sitters in elaborate settings with symbolic accessories, led to his success in the Netherlands, Italy and England, where he was knighted.

Van Dyck was born in Antwerp to wealthy parents in the textile industry. They sent the young artist to study under one of Europe's most distinguished artists of the time, Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Van Dyck was soon the chief assistant of the Master artist, whose influence on Van Dyck was immeasurable.

In 1620, Van Dyck travelled to England at the request of the Duke of Buckingham to paint for James I. Whilst in London, Van Dyck first saw the works of Titian, whose use of colour and form gave a new direction to Van Dyck's work.

The young painter then moved on to Italy where he studied the Italian Masters for six years, finally embarking on his solo career as a portrait painter. Personality wise, he was not popular with everyone. He dressed and behaved as a nobleman rather than an ordinary artist, even going so far as being accompanied by servants!

Van Dyck continued his painting in Genoa for the aristocracy there, drawing on his new-found skills learnt from Veronese and Titian as well as his former teacher, Rubens. He developed a unique perspective, painting his subjects from below so they appeared tall and graceful, looking down on the viewer with hauteur.

After further travels Van Dyck became the court painter of the Archduchess Isabella of Flanders where he began to produce more religious works including some of his renowned altar pieces. He also began his printmaking sketches which were then engraved.

At this time Charles I was acquiring a fine collection of artworks including some of Van Dyck's pieces. In 1632 Van Dyck returned to London and the King immediately knighted him, giving him the title "Principal Painter in Ordinary to their Majesties".

He was well paid for his works and was given use of a house in Blackfriars, which the King and Queen frequently visited for sittings, and a suite of royal apartments in Eltham Palace as a country retreat. His work was prolific, including 40 portraits of King Charles, 30 of Queen Henrietta and the children and countless portraits of the courtiers.

His style gave many of his sitters a landscape background, and often they are shown wearing Cavalier dress.

His own self-portrait shows him as a handsome figure with a flamboyant moustache, holding a sunflower and a medal given to him by King Charles I.

In 1639 he married Mary, a lady-in-waiting to the queen and daughter of Lord Ruthven. However, this did not tie Van Dyck to the court, as the king may have hoped and he was soon travelling again, to Antwerp, Flanders and France, particularly as signs of the Civil War in England loomed.

Whilst in Paris in 1641 he fell ill and returned to his home in Blackfriars where he died, aged just 42 years old. He left a 10-day old daughter by his wife and another daughter by his mistress.

Van Dyck was buried in Old St Paul's Cathedral and a monument was erected by King Charles in his honour.

His fine works live on at the National Gallery in London, the Louvre in Paris and in most major museum collections throughout the world including Petworth House in Sussex and Woburn Abbey. There is also a notable world collection of his works at Wilton House in Salisbury.

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