Antoon (Anthonis) Van Dyck
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Usually known as S IR A NTHONY V AN D YCK .
Flemish portrait-painter, b. at Antwerp, 22 March, 1599; d. in London, 9 December, 1641. This great painter was the seventh child of a family of twelve, being the son of Frans Van Dyck, merchant in silk, linen, and kindred materials, and of Maria, daughter of Dirk Cuypers and Catherina Conincx. While still a boy he was placed, on the advice of Jan Brueghel, as a pupil in the studio of Hendrick Van Balen, who had been a pupil of Rubens. The young artist's development as a painter was rapid, for it is recorded that at the age of fourteen he painted a portrait of an old man, and a lawsuit in 1660 revealed the fact that he had also produced when quite a youth a series of heads exceedingly well painted. A proof of his skill is the fact that in 1618, before he was twenty, he was admitted to the freedom of the guild of St. Luke in Antwerp, an unusual distinction for a youthful painter. The tradition that Van Dyck was apprenticed to Rubens or was ever his pupil must be dismissed. Investigations have proved that he was regarded as a master in his art when he was introduced to the studio of Rubens. Here Van Dyck made one of the group of young men who assisted the master in his decorative works, which it would have been quite impossible for him to complete by himself.
In 1620, at the request of the Countess of Arundel, Van Dyck appears to have come to England and to have received commissions from James I for which he was paid in February, 1621. After executing these orders he returned to Antwerp and then determined to visit Italy, leaving in October, 1621, and remaining abroad for five years. He spent some time at Genoa, moved on to Rome, and then visited Florence; from here he went to Bologna, and later by way of Mantua to Venice. After this he was at Milan and finally in 1623 in Rome. The records of this journey remain in the famous "Chatsworth Sketch Book". His life in Rome was unsatisfactory, for he made many enemies, and soon left the Eternal City and settled in Genoa, where he was exceedingly popular. His portraits of the great nobility of Genoa rank among the finest in the world and form a magnificent and unrivalled series. In 1624 he visited Palermo, painting the portrait of Emmanuel of Savoy, Viceroy of Sicily, and some church pictures, but returned to Genoa and in 1626 left for Antwerp, probably on account of some complications with regard to the division of his father's estate. He visited Aachen and is believed to have gone on to Paris, while tradition states that he made a second visit to England. However, nothing definite is known of his movements until 1630 when he was at The Hague, and shortly afterwards back in his native town. Another tradition, which speaks of the rivalry between Rubens and Van Dyck, has to be discredited. Mr. Lionel Cust and others have shown that the two painters were not only on terms of equality with regard to their art, but that a generous and cordial friendship existed between them.
In 1632 Van Dyck went again to England and was graciously received by Charles I. He appears to have passed into the king's service immediately, as a warrant was issued on 21 May, 1632, for the payment of an allowance to him, and a residence given him in Blackfriars. He had also a summer residence in the palace of Eltham, was knighted on 5 July, presented with a chain and medal of great value, and granted a pension of £200 a year to be paid quarterly. From the moment of his arrival commenced his great success as a portrait painter in England. The king and queen sat to him frequently, and he was overwhelmed with commissions. In 1634-5 he received a pressing invitation to visit the court at Brussels and accepted it, but in 1635 he was back at Antwerp and in the same year returned to England, taking again his position as portrait-painter to Charles I and to Henrietta Maria. Of the king he painted no less than thirty-six portraits and about twenty-five of Queen Henrietta Maria, but perhaps the most beautiful works executed for the royal family were those in which he depicted the children of the royal pair. To this period belong the wonderful portraits of members of the English aristocracy to be found in so many of the great English houses. He prepared a scheme for decorating the walls of the banqueting-house at Whitehall, the sketches for which still exist, but the royal exchequer could not afford the work. In 1640 he decided to return to Antwerp. Rubens had died and Van Dyck was acknowledged the head of the Flemish School and entertained with great magnificence. He was disposed to settle permanently at Antwerp, but first went to Paris, desiring to obtain the commission to decorate the gallery of the Louvre. The work was, however, given to French artists and Van Dyck returned to London for a while, later on in the year, however, visiting Antwerp and Paris, and then coming back to London. When he arrived his health was in a critical condition, and despite the attention of the royal physician he died at his house in Blackfriars eight days after his wife had given birth to a daughter. He was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, and a monument was erected to his memory by order of the king, but the grave and monument perished with the cathedral in the great fire of 1666.
In portraiture Van Dyck is the greatest artist of Europe after Titian, and in works of decorative splendour perhaps only rivalled by Rubens. He was a man of luxurious and somewhat indolent habits, ambitious, proud, sensitive, and quick to take offence. In his portraits the elegance of the composition, the delicate expression of the heads, the truth and purity of his colouring, and the strong lifelike quality of expression give him the very highest position, and he is one of the few painters whom all critics have placed in the front rank. In a consideration of his art the brilliant and vigorous etchings must not be overlooked.
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