Saturday, 22 August 2015

Lets go Dutch

Van Dyke.  From the triple portrait of Charles the First.

I've long been an admirer of Anthony van Dyke (1599 - 1641) and in the spirit of my previous statements that any aspiring artist should copy pictures, I remember copying a wonderful portrait by van Dyke of Cornelius van der Geest.  I'm not now sure when I copied it and I almost certainly didn't keep the results, but keeping the thing isn't exactly the point.  It's what you learn during the process that counts.

Van der Geest (1577 - 1638) was a spice merchant who used his wealth to finance artists and build up a huge collection of now famous works of art by the likes of Matsys, van Eyck and Rubens.  The portrait of van der Geest is well worth making a copy of, but unless you're truly skilled its unlikely you'll accomplish much for the painting is a tour de force of portraiture.

It hits off van der Geest's peering, almost hesitant demeanour perfectly, the moisture on his lips and his eyes give it life and immediacy.  It's almost as if he's just turned his head to you on hearing his name spoken.  You can't doubt that this portrait really looked like the sitter, it's as close to a seventeenth century photograph as you'll get.

Cornelis van der Geest, by Sir Anthony van Dyke.
It must have been a shock for artists in Britain when in 1620 van Dyke first knocked on the countries door and began painting the rich patrons who had been active in encouraging him to visit London.  The kings court painter at the time, a Dutchman named Daniel Mytens who had gained great favour, seemed stiff and formal in his painterly approach when compared with the newcomer.  Van Dyke of course had the best start, having been taught his art by Peter Paul Rubens who was famous throughout Europe and had also visited London to great acclaim.  The artist stayed nine months and King Charles the First was so pleased with his work that he knighted Rubens, and commissioned work from him on his return to his home city of Antwerp. 

Sir Anthony van Dyke with Sir Endymion Porter.  Porter (1587 - 1689), seen in the light coloured clothing was an agent and political diplomat.
On his arrival in London, King Charles knighted van Dyke almost immediately probably in hopes of encouraging him to stay in Britain.  It was well known that he had received his training from Rubens and that Rubens believed him to be his best pupil.  He was just the kind of painter that Charles wanted at court because he was not only extremely accomplished but new, and like most monarchs, Charles wanted his court to be seem as fashionable and as worldly as possible.

Portrait of James Hamilton 1st Duke of Hamiliton by Daniel Mytens.

Mytens was capable of producing a good portrait, his best is perhaps that of James Hamilton 1st Duke of Hamilton, but he could see the way things were going when most of his cliental left to be painted by van Dyke.  Maybe Mytens was a little too early being on the cusp of the transition between James the First (he did in fact paint this king) and Charles the First and he didn't have time to evaluate the new approach quickly enough.   Along came van Dyke and starts producing images that showed men and women as graceful charming creatures, whose expensive taste in clothing the artist seemed able to represent like no other painter.  Certainly not Mytens, who, poor soul, returned to the Netherlands to continue his career on a slightly less elevated plane.

All these Dutch painters were the foundation of future British art, and it might probably be said that a great native British artist didn't emerge until the eighteenth century.  However we shouldn't forget William Dobson (1611 - 1646), active during the late van Dyke period and into the civil war.   He is a pretty dam good painter with little of the Dutch influence about his work, and once van Dyke was dead became more obvious to the court as a great painter in his own right.
The gangs all here. Portraits by William Dobson.  At left: Sir Endymion Porter.  He gets everywhere doesn't he?  At right the subjects are (from the left) Nicholas Lanier (1588 - 1666), Dobson himself, and Sir Charles Cottrell. (1615 - 1701)

Born in London the antiquary John Aubrey said of him that he was 'the most excellent painter that England has yet bred'.  He is supposed to have been discovered by van Dyke but there is no evidence to uphold this.  After van Dyke's death and the start of the civil war Dobson did well, painting numerous cavaliers and supporters of the king, but once the king was gone however his fortunes waned and he fell into debt, dieing at the young age of thirty six.

Dobson should be up there with the best of them, native born and with a feel to his work that is as vital and attractive as anything by Rubens or van Dyke. 

My Website 


No comments:

Post a Comment