Staff Favorites: A Painter, Painted

Oil painting of a bearded man wearing black with lace collar and cuffs

Van Dyck's Frans Snyders

Long before I began working at the Frick, I visited the museum frequently with my grandparents. During these visits, I was always drawn to Van Dyck’s portrait of Frans Snyders. My grandparents and I would discuss with great interest the historical context of the artwork and how Van Dyck painted the painter.

We all felt a psychological connection to the sitter. Snyders’s eyes are perceptive—they seem to show his soul. I saw this aspect of the painting for the first time as a teenager with my grandfather, who observed that Snyders, as portrayed by Van Dyck, seems to be judging the viewer with a stern look. One might argue that this is the look of a person who has gained wisdom through difficult life experiences and, as a result, has adopted a realist or pragmatic view of the world. My grandfather felt that he had similar views about life, having been raised in the hard, poverty-stricken circumstances of post–World War II Soviet Ukraine. I agreed with my grandfather’s interpretation of the painting because I had read that Snyders was known as a strict, difficult person and probably had trying experiences in his career before he became a successful painter.

Following this experience, I visited the painting a few years later with my grandmother. We were both impressed by how the colors of the painting conveyed the mood so well and accentuated Snyders’s serious appearance. The black and light-blue colors conveyed the sitter’s artistic imagination and his dedication as a painter. As an art critic, my grandmother had studied the circumstances of Van Dyck and Snyders’s close professional relationship. She also understood Snyders’s reputation during his lifetime as a skillful, if high-minded, painter. Through these conversations with my grandparents, I have gained a much deeper understanding of the personality conveyed in this portrait of Frans Snyders—difficult, resolute, undaunted.

Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), Frans Snyders, ca. 1620. Oil on canvas, 56 1/8 x 41 1/2 in. (142.6 x 105.4 cm)

Staff Favorites is a series of personal reflections by Frick staff members about works of art in the permanent collection. In January 2021, the Frick—in association with DelMonico Books/D.A.P. New York—will publish a collection of texts in a similar vein by prominent artists, writers, and other cultural figures, each sharing how a work of art at the museum has moved or inspired them. Titled The Sleeve Should Be Illegal & Other Reflections on Art at the Frick, the anthology is made possible by The Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation.

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