Christopher Brown and Hans Vlieghe, Van Dyck 1599-1641[Exh. Cat.] London: Royal Academy Publications; Antwerp: Antwerpen Open, 1999. 358 pp, fully illustrated, ISBN 90-5846-004-5.
Martin Royalton-Kisch, The Light of Nature: Landscape Drawings and Watercolours by Van Dyck and his Contemporaries [Exh. Cat.] London: British Museum; Antwerp: Antwerpen Open, 1999. 192 pp, 60 col. pls, 80 b&w illus. ISBN 0-7141-2621-7.
Carl Depauw and Ger Luijten, Anthony van Dyck as a Printmaker [Exh. Cat.] Antwerp: Antwerpen Open; Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 1999. 400 pp, fully illustrated, ISBN 0-8478-2235-4-575009 (hardcover), 90-5846-015-0 (softcover).
The 400th anniversary year of Anthony van Dyck’s birth prompted three major exhibitions of his work, devoted to his paintings, drawings, and prints respectively. The accompanying catalogues pay fitting tribute to Van Dyck, each with an approach as individual as the various media they discuss. These publications, particularly when taken together, provide a stimulating and rich addition to the literature on Van Dyck.
The catalogue of the paintings, by Christopher Brown and Hans Vlieghe, clearly intends to present a broad overview of Van Dyck’s achievements for the general reader. While it is certainly up-to-date and draws on some new research, it contrasts with recent exhibition catalogues, such as Arthur Wheelock’s and Susan Barnes’s Anthony van Dyck, of 1990 and Susan Barnes’s Van Dyck a Genova, of 1997, among others, which placed more emphasis on archival discoveries and problems of attribution, and which included essays for a specialist audience. The public at the Koninklijk Museum and the Royal Academy may well have appreciated the accessible and comprehensive texts. And for specialists, it is very useful to have all the scattered literature on Van Dyck’s paintings summed up neatly in one place.
The scope of the essays in the paintings catalogue reflects the desire to be comprehensive and comprehensible. Christopher Brown’s introduction does not set out to provide new material, but covers the most salient points of Van Dyck’s career in a fluid and readable way, cleverly punctuated by quotations from Bellori’s 1674 biography. Katlijne van der Stighelen draws on her research in the Antwerp archives to reconstruct Van Dyck’s family background and training in Antwerp. Although she has published her findings elsewhere (see especially Van Dyck 350), in this catalogue, she boldly offers a psychological reading of Van Dyck’s formative years, suggesting that his second-string position to Rubens, his father’s financial woes, and the death of his mother had a lasting impact on his personality and later relationships. Piero Boccardo offers a picture of Genoa and its inhabitants at the time Van Dyck lived there. Although this material appeared just a few years ago in the Van Dyck a Genova catalogue, it is a welcome summary in English, and a reminder of the sumptuous and wealthy atmosphere which would have been so appealing to Van Dyck’s aristocratic tastes. Drawing on new research and unpublished documents, Giovanni Mendola rounds out our knowledge of Flemish painters in Palermo in the early 1620s and adds considerably to our understanding of Van Dyck’s activity there. In particular, documents suggest that Van Dyck stayed in Palermo longer than has been thought: from July 1624 until early September 1625, possibly with a brief trip to Genoa in between. Hans Vlieghe focuses his discussion of Van Dyck’s later Flemish works _ from his second Flemish period (1627-32); his brief trip back from England (1634-35) and his final years (1640-41), and on large altarpieces. Vlieghe offers stylistic analysis and a consideration of patronage, and emphasizes the importance of Gerard Seghers as a model to Van Dyck. In the final essay of the catalogue, Malcolm Rogers sums up the most important points of Van Dyck’s tenure in England, drawing on material that has emerged in the last twenty years, beginning with Oliver Millar’s seminal Van Dyck in England of 1982-83, and articles that have appeared since then. The remainder of the catalogue consists of individual entries of the paintings exhibited, and a useful, updated chronology incorporating the important recent archival discoveries.
The publication seems to have suffered somewhat from last-minute rush, and would have been improved by more careful editing. For instance, it is to be regretted that, given the number of colour illustrations, the quality of reproductions could have not be higher: some are murky and others harsh. The catalogue entries are inconsistent, some made up only of one or two paragraphs focused on style, while others are several pages long emphasizing the historical background of a painting or a sitter. Still, the exhibition represented Van Dyck at his best, and this catalogue, with its fine essays, superb selection of paintings, and up-date-chronology, will serve as an indispensable overview of the artist’s painted oeuvre and life.
Martin Royalton-Kisch set himself a very different task in his catalogue of Van Dyck’s drawings. Rather than offer an all-inclusive survey, he limits his focus to Van Dyck’s landscape sketches and watercolours, which he places in a broad European context and in the tradition for drawing from nature. The catalogue presents some important new perspectives and attributions.
The long introductory essay is divided into three parts. The first discusses Van Dyck’s study of nature and his stylistic development as a landscape draughtsman. The attribution of three sheets, until now generally given to Rubens, Dead Tree Overgrown with Brambles(Chatsworth); Fallen Tree (Louvre); Study of a Fallen Tree(Chatsworth), not only provides insight into what Royalton-Kisch calls the terra incognita of Van Dyck’s early landscape drawings, but has fundamental implications for our understanding of Rubens’s workshop practice. The second part of the introductory essay compares Van Dyck’s landscape drawings to those of his contemporaries in various parts of Europe. The broad scope of this discussion is refreshing and nuanced, and demonstrates that Van Dyck’s landscape drawings need to be viewed in a Europe-wide context to be understood properly. The third section of the essay addresses the tradition of sketching out-of-doors, a subject that has not been the focus of any significant study to date. Royalton-Kisch covers extant landscape drawings from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries as well as prints and written sources. He relates this tradition to Van Dyck by showing that the artist fused distinctively Northern characteristics with a preference for Italianate style, and that by his day, drawing from nature was eminently respectable.
Royalton-Kisch’s individual catalogue entries are succinct and read well in conjunction with the essay as well as independently. The reproductions are superb, and the format of the book is both attractive and suitable for the drawings, which are often horizontal in orientation. This catalogue is not only an admirable addition to the literature on Van Dyck, but with its broad sweep and erudition, on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century drawings more generally.
Unlike Royalton-Kisch, Ger Luijten and Carl Depauw provide a complete overview of Van Dyck as a printmaker in their catalogue. The publication comprises much new material, because aside from Van Dyck’s portrait prints from the Iconography (catalogued by Mauquoy-Hendrickx in 1956, and revised in 1991), his other prints have largely remained unstudied. The catalogue lays particular emphasis on the process of making prints.
The essays, comprising a smaller part of this catalogue than of the two others, provide background for the substantial individual entries. Ger Luijten and Saskia Samboogaart’s survey of the provenance of the collections of the Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam, and the Stedelijk Prentenkabinet, Antwerp, presents the way prints were used and stored by owners in the seventeenth century. The authors conclude that the most important sheets and rare proofs originate from older collections. Luijten, writing alone, offers a fascinating discussion of proofs, from the mid-fifteenth century until Van Dyck’s day. He demonstrates that a number of cursory etchings by Van Dyck are not, in fact, proofs, but intended as virtuoso examples of the non-finito. Ad Snijman draws on written sources to reconstruct the materials and techniques used in the first half of the seventeenth century to make etchings. He draws on this background to explain some anomalies in Van Dyck’s printed oeuvre.Carl Depauw traces Rubens’s involvement in printmaking, and suggests that several artists in Rubens’s studio, among them Van Dyck, were involved in the production of models for prints. The first three drawings in the catalogue serve as examples.
The fifty-two catalogue entries are thorough and full of new analyses and information. Their great strength lies in the care with which the authors traced the conception and the making of prints, with new insights drawn from comparison with preliminary drawings, oil-sketches, and proofs. The entries are followed by biographies of people who played a significant role in the making of Van Dyck’s prints, by Erik Duverger and Danielle Maufort.
This catalogue is hefty, both in scholarship and weight. The individual entries might have been pruned somewhat to accommodate the index, for which there was no room, but can be found on the world wide web:
The reference to this can be found in fine print in A Note to the Reader,which is unfortunately placed between the essays by Stijnman and Depauw, and not before the catalogue entries.