van Dyck, Anthony (Belgium, 1599-1641)

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Anthony van Dyck is best known and celebrated for his portraits of Charles I of England, created after becoming the leading painter of the English court, where his gift for combining formality and casualness in painting held influence for the following 150 years. Van Dyck was extremely successful, comprising religious and mythological subjects as well as portraits, etchings and drawings within his oeuvre.

Born in Antwerp to a wealthy family, Van Dyck began studying under Peter Paul Rubens at a very young age, and, benefitting from his master’s great reputation, soon went on to stay a short while at the court of King James I of England, before setting out for Italy. Van Dyck travelled throughout Italy moving from employment to employment, studying the great Italian masters, producing biblical and mythological subjects and refining his outstanding ability as a draughtsman and painter of portraits. He returned to his native Antwerp in 1627 where he stayed for five years, and the frequent absence of Rubens ensured that his patrons turned to Van Dyck in his stead. During this period, Van Dyck refined his painting technique, and he gave silk, hair and skin smooth, sensuous textures and a mellowness of tone. Van Dyck returned to England in 1632, where his success reached paramount and he was appointed ‘Principalle Paynter in ordinary of their Majesties’ by King Charles I, who also knighted him, gave him a chain of gold and a salary of £200 annually. The reputation Van Dyck has transcended time, and can be eloquently summarised by the art historian E.H. Gombrich, who wrote in his seminal work The Story of Art that Van Dyck is remembered ‘as he would have wished to live in history: a figure of matchless elegance, of unquestioned authority and high culture, the patron of the arts and the upholder of the divine right of kings.’