Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)
The Princesses Elizabeth and Anne, Daughters of Charles I, 1637
Oil on canvas
11 3/4 × 16 1/2 in. (29.8 × 41.8 cm)
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh; purchased with the aid of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Scottish Office and the Art Fund 1996
This is one of the very few surviving oil sketches by Van Dyck for which the related finished portrait still survives. Each of the heads in the complete portrait — representing the five eldest children of King Charles I — must have been based on a similar sketch done from life, whereas the overall composition and individual poses would have been prepared with chalk on paper or in oil on panel. The number of heads in the painting, as well as the challenge of having young children sit still, probably led Van Dyck to make the head studies separately. With admirable economy, he made sure that the sketch contained sufficient information regarding the children’s physiognomy, in the process creating a masterpiece of rapid observation.