The Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck was the most gifted and successful painter to emerge from the Antwerp workshop of Peter Paul Rubens. Henry Clay Frick was a great devotee of Van Dyck’s work, purchasing more paintings by him than by any other artist for his collection. For the first time, all eight portraits by Van Dyck at The Frick Collection are gathered in one room.
These portraits span all periods of Van Dyck’s short career—he died aged forty-two—and illuminate the continuity, as well as the variations, in the painter’s artistic choices. Van Dyck worked in Flanders, before moving to Italy for six years and eventually settling in England, where he became court artist to King Charles I. He died in 1641, only a year before the beginning of the English Civil War, which saw the establishment of a short-lived republic and the beheading of the king, in 1649.
The half-length, pendant portraits of the painter Frans Snyders and his wife, Margareta de Vos, were created in Antwerp when Van Dyck was about twenty years old. The elegance in these paintings is further developed in three grand portraits Van Dyck made in Genoa, in Italy. These are some of the wealthiest aristocrats of Europe. The white and golden dresses of the two Genoese ladies epitomize the affluence of Genoese families who were building some of the most impressive and richly decorated palaces in Europe while assembling extraordinary collections of works of art.
By contrast, the three British portraits by Van Dyck in this room represent lords and ladies arranged in arcadian landscapes, following the models of contemporary literature, and especially poetry. The Earl of Derby, Sir John Suckling, and Lady Anne Carey were all ardent supporters of the royalist cause during the Civil War and met tragic ends. Van Dyck’s late work memorializes a generation of English aristocrats standing on a political and social precipice.