The Royal Art Of Anthony Van Dyck

One of the most distinguished and celebrated portrait painters of all time, Anthony Van Dyck’s powerful paintings of kings, princes and other royalty adorn the walls of several of the most prestigious museums and collections in the world. He had an international career, spending most of his time with paint brush in hand while traveling to to Italy, France, and, to one of the highlights of his career, the court of Charles I in London. Nearly 400 years later, Anthony and his art continues to influence.

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Anthony (born: Antoon) Van Dyck

Location: Born in Antwerp, Spanish Netherlands (modern-day Belgium)                       Died in London, England 

1599-1641 (42 years old)

Anthony’s art career started off early. By the time he was about ten years old he was already apprenticing under master painter Hendrick van Balen (Flemish Baroque painter and stained glass designer) in 1609, and six years later he set up his own workshop with his younger friend Jan Brueghel the Younger.

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Self Portrait, painted when Anthony was 15 (1613-1614)

In 1618 when he was 19 years old, Anthony became a free master of the Antwerp Painters Guild of Saint Luke. A few years later, he became the chief assistant to the dominant master of the whole Guild of Northern Europe, Peter Paul Rubens. Rubens referred to Anthony”the best of my pupils”.

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In 1620 Anthony went for the first time to England where he was commissioned by King James I of England, receiving £100. This visit would end up being transformational for his career. It was in London in the collection of the Earl of Arundel that he first saw the work of Titian, whose use of color inspired Anthony to enrich his style. After four months he returned to Flanders before moving in 1621 to Italy, where he would remain for six years, improving his craft by studying the Italian masters.

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In 1632 he returned to England and was an immediate success. He became knighted and was taken under the wing of the court. He began painting a large number of portraits of the King and Queen Henrietta Maria, and their children with many portraits were sent as diplomatic gifts or given to supporters of the king. Altogether van Dyck has been estimated to have painted forty portraits of King Charles himself and about thirty of the Queen.

Anthony  was granted cinizenship in 1638, and married Mary, the daughter of Patrick Ruthven. She was a Lady in waiting to the Queen, in 1639-40 and it is thought that the King may have instated their relationship to keep him in England.

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Interesting Tidbits

  • Anthony Van Dyck painted many portraits of men,with the short, pointed beards that were in fashion during that time. interestingly, this particular kind of beard was much later (America in the 19th century) named a vandyke or Van Dyke beard.
  • During the reign of George III, a generic “Cavalier” fancy-dress costume called a Van Dyke was popular.
  • The oil paint pigment “Van Dyck” brown is named after him, and Van Dyke brown was a color used in the early photographic printing process.

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Today, his work can be found in some of the highest collections around the world. The British Royal Collection, (which still contains many of his paintings of the royal family and has a total of twenty-six paintings) The National Gallery in London (fourteen works), The Museo del Prado in Spain, which holds twenty-five works, The Louvre in Paris eighteen works and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

Just this past spring and summer, The Frick Collection in New York  (USA) had the exhibit called “Van Dyck: The Anatomy of Portraiture”, the first major exhibit of the artist’s work in the United States in over two decades.

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