Home  |  Authors  |  Books  |  Stories  |  What's New  |  How to Get Involved 
   T h e   B a l d w i n   P r o j e c t
     Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children                 @mainlesson.com
Search This Site Only
 
 
Great Artists: Volume two by  Jennie Ellis Keysor
Table of Contents

[Illustration] Hundreds of additional titles available for online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics

Learn More
[Illustration]

 

 

“Van Dyck heightens the statures that Rubens made too stout; he indicates less muscle, less relief, fewer bones, and not so much blood. He is less turbulent, never brutal; his expressions are less gross; he laughs but little, had often a vein of tenderness, but he knows not the strong sob of violent men. He never startles; he often corrects the roughness of his master; he is easy because his talent is prodigiously natural and facile; he is free and alert, but he is never carried away. . . .

In every case he has more than his master, a feeling for draperies well put on, for fashion; he has a taste for silky stuffs, for satins, for ribbons, for points, for plumes and ornamental swords.”
—EUGENE FROMENTIN.

Van Dyck, "poring on a face,

Divinely through all hindrance finds the man

Behind it, and so paints him that his face,

The shape and color of a man and life,

Lives for his children, even at its best

And fullest."

—ANONYMOUS.


[Illustration]

ANTONY VAN DYCK

ANTONY VAN DYCK

1599 – 1641.

[5] IN a former sketch we have noted the greatness of Rubens, who was the most famous of Flemish painters and indeed one of the most renowned artists of the world. We dwelt at length upon Antwerp, his home city, upon the friends who made the wonderful success of his career even more striking than it otherwise would have been, and upon his own beautiful pure life, that more than anything else, more even than his fine genius, endears him to us.

In that sketch little more than a bare mention of Van Dyck’s name placed before us the favorite pupil of the great Rubens, and, next after the master himself, the greatest painter of Flanders. There are men so great that to stand next below them on the honor-roll of the world is high praise. Such a man was Rubens, and in placing Antony Van Dyck only a degree below him, [6] we bestow an honor which nothing but genius of a lofty sort could merit.

Van Dyck was in one sense a reflection of his master but in no wise was he that merely as an imitator. He added to Rubens' characteristics his own individual qualities, most prominent among which were grace and refinement. Thus he was a worthy bearer of the torch of progress—he showed himself a grateful heir of the ages by contributing his own part to the sum total of artistic production.

Let us see how true this was: Rubens was wild and fleshly at times, seeming too much to abound in animal life. Van Dyck, in his pictures, subdued this wildness, adding in its stead a certain grace and elegance. Rubens occasionally crowded his canvas to overflowing so that we are confused by the very exuberance of his work. Van Dyck, with calmer judgment, used fewer figures and thus cleared up our confused notions. Rubens, full of allegorical and historical conceptions, found portraiture too tame for his teeming brush. Van Dyck, working more minutely, felt the universe of conflict going on in one man or woman's soul and so exquisitely wrought his portraits that, though they stand before us polished men and women of the world, yet we feel that there is within them a hidden life of which Van Dyck's art gives us sure but delicate suggestions.

[7] Here, at least, was one branch of the painter's art in which the pupil out-stripped his master. Without Rubens we can scarcely imagine Van Dyck to have existed as a painter. They stand as suggestion and complement to each other, each one greater because the other lived.

If we are interested in Van Dyck as the inheritor from Rubens, we cannot be less interested in him as the forerunner of the English school of painting so ably represented by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Lawrence. He was the last great foreign painter brought into England by the art-munificence of her sovereigns. After his death there came from foreign lands a race of petty painters and then Englishmen awoke, in their appreciation of Hogarth and Reynolds, to the consciousness that within their own borders were men, the products of whose brushes placed them among really great painters.

So Van Dyck, born in Belgium, the intellectual heir of Rubens, died in England the intellectual progenitor of Reynolds and Gainsborough. By a stretch of fancy, there is a signifippance in the fact that the dust of Van Dyck has long ago mingled with English soil. In the same manner his artistic genius which is a thing of spirit and so knows no disintegration, has through all the years since his death diffused itself through English art [9] and made it stronger and more redolent of the soil whereon it thrives.

Van Dyck’s life, like that of Masaccio and Raphael, was a short one and yet so complete and rounded in the perfection of the work he accomplished that we dare not imagine additional honors had his years been prolonged to the scriptural “three score and ten.” The materials from which to draw the incidents of Van Dyck’s life, especially the earlier part, are scarce and even those we have are quite uncertain. Ben Jonson once wrote of Shakespeare, referring perhaps to the paucity of biographical matter, “Reader, look not on the man but on his books.” Imitating Jonson’s words, we might likewise say of Van Dyck, “Student, look not on the man but on his pictures.”

Antony Van Dyck was born of well-to-do parents in Antwerp, March 22, 1599. His father was a manufacturer of silk and woolen stuffs as had been his ancestors for several generations. It would please our fancy better to believe an old legend which gave the occupation of Antony’s father as that of a painter of glass for rich cathedral windows. Such work for the father of a great painter is quite to our liking and so, for generations, men willingly accepted the old story as truth. If, however, this romantic occupation of the father must be thrust aside for the more prosaic one of silk and woolen [10] manufacturer we are certain of quite as picturesque employment for the dainty fingers of the child’s lady mother.

Although Antony was the seventh of her twelve children she found time to do very beautiful work with her needle and brilliant silken floss. She invented her patterns and shaded her work so skillfully that she created pictures instead of bits of fantastic embroidery. We can imagine how she taught the silken vine, ladened with glossy leaves and flowers, to climb the wrought trellis, or how she worked with nimble fingers some legend of love or daring to adorn her home.

We know that shortly before the little Antony was born, she worked in all its details the story of Susannah and the Elders. It was surely a womanly employment pervaded with true art feeling, and Van Dyck’s mother, engaging in it, unconsciously put herself beside some lovely dames of fact and fiction—beside Matilda, William the Conqueror’s prudent consort, who with her gentlewomen wrought out in the Bayeux tapestry the events which her warlike husband was bringing to pass; beside Penelope who wove those mystic scenes by day and ravelled them by night to foil her unlawful suitors; beside the thousands of dainty women, who, in our more tranquil times, seize bird and flower and grass from field and wood and hold them in all the radiance of their native color to adorn our happy indoor life.

[11] Little is known of the first years of the painter, but we can easily imagine that his were fingers that early found delight in drawing the crude images of a child-artist. We can fancy that often and often as his mother shaped with needle and floss the tree or flower of her thought the child at her knee followed her pattern with the wayward pencil clutched in his baby hand. Whatever may be the truth or falsity of our impressions along this line, we know that at the age of ten his father thought it worth while to send the boy to study drawing and painting in the studio of Van Balen, a pupil of the famous Van Noort, who had instructed Rubens at one time.

Two years before, the gentle mother had died leaving her little artist son to be cared for by others.

In Van Balen’s studio the young Antony soon excelled all his associates. After he had been here for five years Rubens returned from Italy and all eyes were turned to him, loaded as he was with his young and growing fame. Among the throng of artists who sought the distinction of being instructed by Rubens was Van Dyck, then a lad of fifteen or sixteen. His industry and skill with Van Balen was well known, so he quite easily obtained the permission he wished. He had been with the great master but a short time when it was quite evident that of all the crowd of artists who [13] worked with him, the young Van Dyck was the favorite—the one selected to assist the master in his most precious work.


[Illustration]

WILLIAM II OF NASSAU

With his usual keenness, Rubens noted Van Dyck’s power in portraiture and advised the young man to develop that branch of painting and to perfect himself in it by an extended tour of Italy. There have been those who have asserted that Rubens feared that Van Dyck would prove a dangerous rival and so he encouraged him to pursue the line of work least likely to menace his own. If we study Rubens’ character deeply we shall be convinced that such a motive was far below the temper of his lofty soul. Further, we must be sure, from the way Van Dyck’s art developed, that Rubens had no thought but for the welfare of his student and friend, for, beautiful as are the many other pictures by Van Dyck, in portraiture he stands close to Titian, the greatest portrait painter among the Old Masters.

A pleasant story is told of Van Dyck at this time. The subjects Rubens was using in his private studio were ever a matter of curiosity to his numerous pupils and all sorts of harmless devices were resorted to to find out what the master preferred to hide, for a time at least, from his inquisitive students. One evening, after Rubens had left the studio, a more than common desire to see what he had been painting possessed the young [14] men. They forced the door and found, so the story runs, the wonderful “Descent from the Cross” on the master’s easel with the fresh paint undried upon its matchless figures.

Some jostling, which is likely to occur in such a gathering of students, took place, and sad to relate, some luckless fellow brushed with his arm the face and shoulder of the Magdalen. A terrified silence ensued as they gazed at the blurred figure. Finally they summoned courage to designate one of their number to repair the damage. Van Dyck was selected and, in the three hours of daylight that yet remained to him, he reluctantly undertook the unwelcome task. When it was finished the culprits declared that it excelled the master’s own work and so they left it with fear and trembling.

When Rubens returned the next morning, his quick eye almost instantly detected the work of an alien hand and, what was more surprising, he recognized in it Van Dyck’s work. The crown of surprises, however, was when the master remarked in a not unpleasant tone of voice, “This throat and chin is by no means the worst piece of painting that I did yesterday.” It is further stated that he in no wise changed this “touch of a strange hand,” and that he fully forgave the boys who had broken in upon the privacy of his studio.

[17] When Van Dyck was but nineteen he was enrolled as a member of the Guild of St. Luke with full qualifications. This was a great honor and one never before bestowed upon a man under twenty years of age. Now this Guild of St. Luke was an association or society, named for the artist evangelist, the members of which must be skilled in their special work. Twenty-four different classes of workmen were included among the members, among them painters and sculptors. The society was interested in everything that pertained to art. When there were no great artists, they kept, as it were, the art spirit alive, so that when great geniuses should appear the way would be somewhat prepared for them.

On all public occasions this guild played an important part, looking after the decorations, entertaining notable guests, etc. No man who was a sloven in his work or understood it imperfectly could become a member of this guild. They tended to make careful workmen and so, of course, improved the general life of the citizens very materially, for no single principle can bring more happiness to a community than this, that all workmen, whether in high or humble places, do their work skillfully and conscientiously. It certainly speaks well for Van Dyck’s workmanship that he so early became a member of St. Luke’s Guild. He must have made him- [18] self thoroughly worthy of the honor of membership, for in later years he became president of this important body.

In 1620, Van Dyck made a flying visit to England, and so far ingratiated himself with the king, James I., that he was commissioned to paint a portrait of the king. This portrait is now in the royal collection at Windsor.

From England he went to Holland whither he had been invited by Frederick, son of the great Prince of Orange, who had been assassinated in 1584. There he painted several portraits of the prince’s family. One of these represents a beautiful lad of sixteen or seventeen with boyish face and flowing locks. In later years this prince became the father of that William of Orange, who, with his wife Mary, came to the throne of England when her own kings seemed to fail her. In another beautiful picture of this time we have the same youth, somewhat older, with his affianced bride, Mary Stuart, daughter of Charles I. The refined faces and hands of these royal young people are enhanced by the rich court costumes which were such an important part of Van Dyck’s portraits.


[Illustration]

VAN DYCK AT COURT OF CHARLES I

At this time, too, must have taken place that meeting of Van Dyck and Franz Hals. Franz was not at home when Van Dyck called, but was, as usual at the tavern. [21] From his convivial companions he was summoned to paint a portrait of his caller whom of course he did not know. In two hours he had painted a portrait at which Van Dyck justly marveled.


[Illustration]

CHRIST AND HIS MOTHER

Then he said to Hals, “Painting is doubtless an easier thing than I thought. Let us change places and see what I can do.” Hals, proud of his own work, was quite willing for the stranger to test himself and so he did as he was asked. When, in shorter time than Hals has taken, the second portrait was finished, the enthusiastic Dutchman rushed to his guest, flung his arms about his neck, and exclaimed, “The man who can do that is Van Dyck or the Devil!” and so the visitor’s identity was established, for he preferred owning up to being himself rather than being thought to be the arch-fiend, Satan.

In 1622, Van Dyck returned to Antwerp to attend his father during the closing hours of his life. One of his father’s last requests of his son was that the latter should paint a picture for the Dominican sisters who had been so kind to him since the beginning of his illness. The artist fulfilled his promise by painting a Crucifixion which has ever ranked high among his works.

Any picture which represents our Lord’s death must ever be a sad one. This of Van Dyck’s is one of the [22] greatest, showing not only the terrible earthly agony of our dying Lord, but the hopefulness and joy of the angels when the sacrifice for sinning men was fully accomplished. For nearly a hundred years this picture hung in the convent for which it was painted. It was later bought for the Museum at Antwerp, where we may to-day see it in almost unfaded splendor.

Shortly after the death of his father, Van Dyck accepted Rubens’s advice and planned an extensive journey to Italy. He and his master exchanged presents and we can imagine that Rubens gave many a bit of good advice to his pupil in whom he was so deeply interested. After Van Dyck’s departure Rubens placed one of his pupil’s pictures in a conspicuous place in one of the finest rooms in his splendid house. In addition to other gifts, Rubens gave Van Dyck a beautiful gray horse from his own stables, and on this the artist set out on his journey.

He had, however, gone but a few miles from Brussels when a pretty young woman attracted his susceptible eye and he was forthwith convinced that his horse needed rest and meadow food, while he himself longed for the companionship of the young woman who so pleased him upon first sight. Her name was Anna Ophem and she lived at the Court in the capacity of Mistress of the Hounds, whatever that may mean. The [25] artist has left us a portrait of Anna surrounded by her hounds.

The story goes that for five months the young artist tarried at Saventhem, fair Anna’s home, and enjoyed wild wood rambles with the sweet young girl. He was brought to his senses by the arrival of a messenger from Rubens, who urged his instant departure for Italy. Thus suddenly came to an end our artist’s spring-time love tale. His sojourn in the quiet village in the company of a charming girl was not barren of art work, for he left behind him two pictures known to fame.

One of these, “St. Martin Dividing His Cloak with Two Beggars,” was for nearly two centuries kept as a treasure by the townspeople. In 1806, it was stolen by the French and deposited in the Louvre, where it remained for nine years, when it was restored to the village church from which it was taken. It has since been almost captured by thieves for a wealthy American, but, as of old, Rome was saved by the cackling of some wise-minded geese, so in our more prosaic century, the timely barking of a dog saved for a devoted people this trophy of an artist’s love-sojourn among them.

The figure of Martin, the good saint of Amiens, who have nothing else to give, divided the very coat upon his back to shelter a shivering beggar, is that of the [26] loitering painter himself, and the fine horse represented is none other than the one Rubens presented as a parting gift to Van Dyck. The other picture, in which Anna is painted as the mother in a Holy Family, has not been so fortunate, for we have an authority who asserts that it was cut up into sacks to hold grain for the French invaders.

We have no other details of Van Dyck’s journey to Italy, but next hear of him at Venice, deep in his study of the galleries of the island city. Numerous sketches and crowded note-books testify to his industry while in this city of color and dream life. The more he examined Titian and Giorgione the more fully he became convinced of his own calling to become a portrait painter.

Continued and thorough study left little opportunity for the money-making work for which Van Dyck longed. In his search for such remunerative work he remembered how Genoa had welcomed Rubens, and thither he bent his steps in the hope of a similar munificent patronage.

He was not mistaken in his hopes. Representatives of families illustrious for centuries in the annals of the merchant city flocked to the elegant young painter. The gorgeous stuffs and splendid jewels that betokened the wealth of this great sea-port were the appurtenances most delightful to Van Dyck in his portrait work. [27] Many a dashing Genoese, with his gorgeously attired wife and beautiful children, saw himself and his family adequately reproduced by the facile hand of the Cavalier Painter from beyond the Alps. Success crowned all his efforts; he gave the luxury loving princes and citizens elegant portraits of themselves and their families; they filled his pockets with their yellowest gold, and in addition, praised and honored him as their friend.

From Genoa our artist went to Rome, where he remained for two years. Here he lived in the house of Cardinal Bentiooglia, the scholar and diplomat, who acted as patron to the Flemish artists who gathered in Rome. While here he did some of his greatest work. The portrait of his patron, the Cardinal, is said to be one of the best he ever painted. Sacred subjects, too, he did, which are among his best work. “The Crucifixion,” “The Adoration of the Magi,” and “The Ascension,” all done in his richest style, belong to this period.

Popular with his patrons, admired by his inferiors for his sumptuous way of living, yet was he despised by his countrymen then studying art in Rome. They were most of them roistering fellows who clung to the boorishness of their native land. What could such a company have in common with the refined Van Dyck, who lived like a prince and not like a poor art student in a [29] foreign city? They were stung by his lofty manners and more yet by the fact that he excelled them in their art. The spitefulness they felt grew into malignity and they circulated wicked stories about him and in other ways made life so unbearable for him that he was glad to leave Rome and seek Genoa again, where he had been so cordially received. On his way thither, he stopped at Florence and other northern cities famous for their pictures or buildings.

He remained in Genoa this time only a short period, for he had an opportunity to go to Sicily with a friend. His sojourn in this southern isle he always looked upon as one of the happiest experiences of his life. As always seemed his fortune, he moved among courtiers, painting their portraits and, in return, receiving their money and their praises.

Among other distinguished people he met here the aged Sofonisba Anguissola. She was now ninety-two years old, but with intellectual powers perfectly preserved, although she was then totally blind. She had been a noted portrait painter. As Van Dyck made her portrait, she talked so delightfully of the art to which she had given her life, that in later years he was fond of saying that he had learned more of his art in his conversation with this blind woman than from his study of the masterpieces of the world.

[30] A sudden breaking out of the plague, in 1626, caused him to leave this pleasant retreat for Antwerp. He reached his home city with the honors of Italy fresh upon him, but even thus crowned, he found it difficult to make his way in the city which was Rubens’s home. The departure of Rubens on a diplomatic errand to Spain, however, soon gave Van Dyck the opportunity he desired. It was scarcely fifty years since the rich city of Antwerp had been sacked by the Spaniards, but prosperity had again come among her citizens. They were now desirous of making their churches as spending as they had been before the Spanish Fury, and so there were commissions for many skilled hands. For this purpose the call for was for sacred subjects. Here are some used by Van Dyck at this time. “The Adoration of the Shepherds,” “The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine,” “Christ Crowned with Thorns,” “St. Augustine,” “The Crucifixion.”


[Illustration]

CHRIST CROWNED WITH THORNS



[Illustration]

MARRIAGE OF ST. CATHERINE

Why a man of Van Dyck’s temperament—pleasure-loving and rather careless of some of the things that make up a Christian—should over and over paint the sorrows of the crucifixion is matter of surprise to the student of his life and work. Yet as we often find under a gay and apparently thoughtless exterior a soul moved by the deepest religious principles and a heart so tender that the cry of a loveless child [33] would pierce it to its very core. Such a man Van Dyck at times seemed to be. Putting this fact with the demand of the day, may we not in some manner account for the “Cavalier Painter’s” power in the painting of sacred subjects?

However we may please our fancy in accounting for them, the fact remains that he has given us at least fifty beautiful pictures in which the religious element predominates. Perhaps his favorite subject along these lines was. “The Holy Family.” One of these, called “Repose in Egypt,” we reproduce in this sketch. Joseph sits deep in the shade of the great tree under which the three are resting. The lovely mother supports the beautiful Christ Child who seems striving to join the angel circle, whose members seem to be asking if there is any service they can render. Among the clouds above is an angel choir doing service in their own sweet way. This picture is in the Pitti Palace in Florence and is one of the favorites among Van Dyck’s religious pictures.


[Illustration]

REPOSE IN EGYPT

It was shortly after his return from Italy that he began that series of portraits “in gray” of his contemporaries in almost every walk of life. There were literary men, artists, statesmen and warriors, besides artisans and men of no trade. Some of the heroes of the Thirty Years’ War were represented in the series for [35] which it is quite certain that Van Dyck visited Germany though we have no other record of such a visit.


[Illustration]

FLIGHT INTO EGYPT

The spirit which showed itself in Van Dyck’s enemies in Rome followed him to Antwerp and annoyed the artist in the midst of his strongest work. Disturbed by the carping criticism of his enemies and spurred on by the ambition that a man of genius feels, he looked longingly toward England as a promising source of patronage. In 1629, he again went to London, and, it is said, made the acquaintance of the Earl of Northumberland for whom he painted several portraits in his home at Petworth. It is supposed that he hoped to meet the king and so lay the foundation for future work in England. In this he evidently failed for he shortly returned to Antwerp after a few days spent in Paris.

It is little to be wondered at that Van Dyck looked to England for patronage. Thither had gone some of the most valuable art collections of the continent. The government, at the suggestion of Rubens, had purchased and mounted cartoons of Raphael. While her literary artists led the world, England quite willingly acknowledged that she had no native pictorial art and she therefore liberally patronized the great painters of the continent.

Although Van Dyck’s visit of 1629 had not apparently advanced his interests with the English king, that [37] same Charles was becoming familiar with the work of the Fleming and inquiring for him. When a little later a carefully executed portrait by Van Dyck of Laniere, a court musician, fell into the king’s hands, he at once dispatched a message to the artist inviting him to the English court.

Van Dyck set his affairs at home in order and in the early part of 1632 presented himself before Charles for orders. He was enthusiastically received and lodged at the expense of the court in a house in Blackfriars where the king was accustomed to entertain distinguished guests. In addition he was given a country place at Eltham, in Kent. Van Dyck’s heart’s desire was now accomplished. He was beyond the reach of the criticism of his jealous brother artists. He had nothing to do but to paint and paint his very best.

His elegant personal appearance, his social charms, and his hospitality soon made him immensely popular in society and about him gathered the gayest and the fairest of England’s capital. This butterfly life did not seem to interfere with his art, for in spite of it he accomplished a prodigious amount of work. Within a few months of his arrival in England he had painted full length portraits of the king and queen besides a fine family group of them and their children. To the honor that naturally came with his successful work the [38] king added very soon that of knighthood and henceforth he was known as Sir Antony Van Dyck.

He painted portraits for many of the nobility, among whom he had devoted friends. Of these none were more valued that Sir Kenelm Digby and his wife Venetia, whose features he painted many times. One portrait of Lady Venetia he has given us in the form of an allegory, the popular literary form of the day. Here she figures as Prudence, draped with a white veil and girdled by a jeweled belt. Deceit, Anger, and Envy lie bound beneath her feet while in her purity she puts forth her hands to seize two white doves flying near by.

Van Dyck’s best known and, in many senses, his strongest pictures belong to the period of his residence in London. Charles and his queen, Henrietta Maria, he represented more than a score of time, sometimes together but more often as separate portraits. The most famous of them all is the picture in the Louvre, where Charles, in full cavalier costume, stands just in front of his fine gray horse that impetuously paws the ground. In spite of our nineteenth century prosaic desire to smooth out some of the folds of his rich attire or to pull up his wrinkled top-boots, we feel that we are in the presence of a masterly portrait. Though decked out with all the gew-gaws of a frivolous age there is [41] that in the face of this unfortunate king which makes us instinctively dread what the future has in store or him.


[Illustration]

HENRIETTA MARIA

In later years, long after the tragedy of 1649 had been accomplished, Louis XVI., destined to be another royal victim to an outraged people’s ire, used to beg to have this picture removed from his presence, for the whole tenor of the face was a menace to his own happiness. Forgetting the sad fate of the central figure in this picture, let us note its accessories—the wide-spreading tree, the water and sail boar to the left, the verdure-clothed ground on which the king and his attendants stand, the cloud-flecked sky bending over all. All this clothed in the color which Van Dyck knew so well how to use, made a picture to rank, as it does, among the classics of painting.


[Illustration]

CHARLES I OF ENGLAND

The queen with her piquant face, her satin robes and her pearls was likewise a subject delightful to the artist and charming to us. Of all the royal pictures, however, none has enjoyed the popularity of the group known as The Children of Charles I., now in the Dresden gallery, or that other group so like it at Turin. In both cases the group is composed of Prince Charles and his sister Mary with their little brother, James, Duke of York. This sweet group of naive children, with a fine spaniel on either side, is justly a favorite. Indeed it is so [43] much so that we do not like the information of the student of English history that the fine frank fellow, Charles, became the dissolute Charles II. of England’s most corrupt period or that Baby Stuart, the pet of all our primary pupils and their mothers, became the bigoted and weak James II. who was unable to hold a throne handed down to him by all the generations of English kings since William the Conqueror.


[Illustration]

CHILDREN OF CHARLES I

Happily, however, we are studying pictures and not history and we love these Stuart children for what they are here before us in Van Dyck’s beautiful picture and not what they became in their maturity. The “Baby Stuart,” so widely copied is from a drawing of the youngest of these children.


[Illustration]

BABY STUART

It is evident, from the great number of pictures done by Van Dyck, that his method of working must have been extraordinary. The following is an account given by one of the artist’s friends which is interesting to us as bearing directly upon this matter. “He appointed a certain day and hour for the person he had to paint, and never worked longer than one hour at a time upon each portrait, whether in rubbing in or finishing; when his clock told the hour, he rose and made a bow to the sitter, as much as to say that enough was done for that day, and then arranged the day and hour for the next sitting, after which his servant came to prepare fresh [45] brushes and palette, while he received another person to whom he had given an appointment.


[Illustration]

FAMILY OF CHARLES I

“He thus worked on several portraits in one day with extraordinary expedition. After having lightly sketched the face, he put the sitter in an attitude which he had previously meditated, and with gray paper and white crayons he drew in a quarter of an hour the figure and drapery, which he arranged in a grand manner and with exquisite taste. He then handed over the drawing to skilful persons whom he had about him, to paint it from the sitter’s own clothes which were sent on purpose at Van Dyck’s request. The assistants having done their best with the draperies from nature, he went lightly over them, and soon produced by his genius the art and truth which we thus admire. As for the hands, he had in his employment persons of both sexes who served as models.”

In this matter of hands he sometimes erred in judgment for it is no uncommon thing to find in his pictures a delicate pair of hands attached to the burly figure of a warrior or of a statesman.

It is also related that he frequently entertained his sitters at dinner that he might study their expression when relaxed and not under the strain of sitting for their portraits. Indeed so common was this custom with the artist that it materially increased his expenses.

[46] His price for a half length portrait was sixty pounds sterling and for a full length one hundred pounds.

As the years wore on it became more and more evident that nothing short of a revolution could settle affairs in England. The income of the king fluctuated and at times the royal family were separated, owing to the unsettled condition of affairs. Van Dyck felt keenly the shrinkage in his income. The extravagant habits contracted in more prosperous times still clung to him. In his extremity we find him forgetting the high calling of his art and painting, as Guido Reni had done, hurriedly and carelessly merely for the money.

Worse almost than this we find him stifling in the unsavory odors of the laboratory in the hopeless pursuit of the “philosopher’s stone,” that imaginary element, which, when once produced, would turn all baser metals to shining, precious gold. In our more practical way of looking at things, we cannot help thinking that when he lowered and abused his art he let go the real philosopher’s stone for him and then, in pitiful consciousness of his mighty loss, he sought its substitute in the uncanny recesses of the alchemist’s retorts and crucibles.

Our artist, though a yet a young man, was broken in health and in purse. In the vain effort to recuperate the latter some of his noble friends arranged a marriage [47] for him with Maria Ruthven, a woman of noble family. Such a marriage could hardly be happy for either party and yet we have no evidence that the ill-mated couple were unkind to each other.

They had been married hardly two years when, burdened with disease and disappointment, Van Dyck died just eight days after the birth of his daughter, Justiniana. He was but forty-two years of age and, if we may judge from the quality of the work he left, it was not unreasonable to look to the future for his crowning work.

There was a sumptuous funeral in old St. Paul’s and the artist was laid to rest close beside John of Gaunt in the crypt of the old church. In the confusion that attended the rebuilding of the church in later years, the graves were lost sight of. Years later, in excavating, the plate from Van Dyck’s coffin was found but no further trace of his remains. We can then make no pious pilgrimage to the artist’s grave for his dust is scattered, we know not where. Again, dear reader, in the paraphrased words of another, let me say, “Look not on the man but on his pictures.”


 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Next: Rembrandt van Ryn
Copyright (c) 2000-2017 Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.