Those wishing to survey the variety and breadth of the oeuvre of Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) or provide a handy reference in a footnote have hitherto reached for Gustav Glück, Van Dyck, des Meisters Gemälde, Klassiker der Kunst (1931, 2nd rev. ed.) or, perhaps, for Erik Larsen, The Paintings of Anthony van Dyck (2 vols. 1988). Though the newly published Catalogue Raisonné certainly supersedes both, it does not relegate Glück to the obsolete shelf, for only a few of the paintings he attributed to Van Dyck have been dropped from the present volume, and in their preface the authors generously acknowledge their debt to his scholarship (based of course in part on the findings of earlier generations) and connoisseurship.
The decision facing all those embarking on a Catalogue Raisonné is how to structure the artist’s oeuvre, with the two most obvious choices being chronologically or thematically. Glück, like all KdK volumes, is chronological, as is Michael Jaffé’s, Rubens. Catalogo Completo (1989), whereas Wethey’s three-volume Titian is classified thematically, with a chronological sub-order within the various genres of religious and mythological history painting and portraiture. The solution devised for the present catalogue undoubtedly had much to do with the division of labor among the four authors, each of whose knowledge of specialist areas of Van Dyck’s oeuvre made him/her particularly well-qualified to assume responsibility for one of the four sections into which the artist’s life has been divided. Van Dyck never put down roots in the same fashion as Rubens, who while permanently resident in Antwerp from 1609 actually led a restless sort of life, often traveling abroad on artistic or diplomatic missions, with the younger artist’s life falling into four distinct periods determined by his geographic location: I) early years in Antwerp and first visit to London [Nora De Poorter – with Millar and Barnes for the English period: Oct. 1620-March 1621]; II) Italy [1621- July 1627; Susan Barnes]; III) the second Antwerp period [1627-March 1632] and Brussels [late 1633/early 1634-mid 1635; Horst Vey]; and IV) London [1632-1641: Oliver Millar]. Each author introduces his/her section with a short introductory essay that outlines in exemplary fashion the major professional and personal occurrences and characterizes the stylistic and thematic features of his work for that particular period. The individual entries are themselves organized thematically: religious works; secular history (mythology, poetry, allegory); portraits of known sitters (A-Z); unknown sitters (by format [full length to heads]; male, female, children).
The eagerly-awaited publication of the artist’s paintings and oil sketches is a weighty tome containing a total of 826 entries, all generously illustrated in color or black-and-white. Each entry consists of the provenance as known, a selective bibliography, and inscriptions (cited in full). All non-English quotations are translated; the few technical details relating to condition, over-painting, changes to the support etc. are included in the text, as is information concerning copies and versions – though here the possibility of following the Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard and listing them together before the text might have been a sensible alternative. The texts themselves vary in length and focus on relevant issues of composition, style, technique, iconography, on occasion dating, and, as is essential in a study of the oeuvre of one of the great portrait painters, the sitters, their familial connections and positions within the social hierarchy. They in general satisfy the reader’s desire for an overview of the relevant issues and include additional references for further reading. Even if one on occasion misses a more in-depth discussion of lesser-known paintings, it is understandable that in a project of this scope the team could not address all works with the same intensity, and this minor issue is more than offset by their overall achievements, especially in the field of connoisseurship. For example, an article by Jaynie Anderson in the October 2005 Burlington Magazine on the findings of the technical examination of the two versions of Rachel, Countess of Southampton confirm Oliver Miller’s opinion that the Melbourne version (IV.209) was executed before that in Cambridge (IV.210), which had hitherto been seen by many as the primary work.
The division of Van Dyck’s oeuvre according to periods determined by his residencies does of course provide an overall chronology of his works, and one that for the most does not deviate from accepted thought. There are of course problem works, as the authors acknowledge, e.g. Portrait of a Man (II.82) is included in the Italian section (this entry inexplicably by Vey), a dating accepted by Cust, Burchard, and Miller though Barnes is “certain … not painted in Italy” and De Poorter (following Glück) argued in favour of Antwerp. Occasionally one wishes for a more vigorous defence of the allocation to a particular period: for example, Barnes’s only reason for assigning the Portrait of a Man with a Gloved Hand (II.84) to the Italian period appears to be the similarity of his lace collar to that in a portrait dated 1624 (II.61). However – albeit judging from the rather indistinct reproduction of II.84 – comparable collars were also worn by Antwerp sitters (e.g. III, 77, 84, 95), and since Barnes herself notes that the man’s emphatic gesture reappears in the artist’s later Antwerp Portrait of Peeter Stevens (III.133), and that both Ludwig Burchard and Lionel Cust dated the portrait to the second Antwerp period, further enquiry is necessary. One point in favour of II.84’s execution in Antwerp is the unknown sitter’s elaborately decorated glove: not only is it extremely close to Stevens’s but also seems to have been an unpopular fashion accessory for Italian men – in only one of Van Dyck’s male portraits from the Italian period do we find a sitter with one gloved hand (or indeed wearing gloves), and then it is the Netherlandish merchant and collector Lucas van Uffel (II.68). All Van Dyck’s dated paintings are however conveniently listed by year in the lucid and very detailedChronology that opens the monograph. The thematic arrangement within each of the four periods certainly allows the reader to assess the artist’s achievements in the different genres, to judge their changing relevance as he changes location, and to gauge the very different tastes and interests of the artist and his patrons in the different countries. Moreover, the circumstances surrounding the execution of a number of his works, in particular portraits of the Italian and second English periods, and his major altarpieces, often allow for a fairly accurate positioning within his oeuvre. Quite different however are his formative years in Antwerp, with both his stylistic diversity and association with Rubens placing difficult hurdles in the way of those trying to establish a chronology of sorts.
Nora de Poorter’s expert knowledge of Rubens made her the obvious candidate for what is arguably the most complex and difficult section of the catalogue. In her introductory essay, De Poorter provides a lucid account of the difficulties of forming a clear picture of Van Dyck’s early years, and is rigorous in her evaluation: she refuses to engage in speculation about what cannot be unambiguously documented – and that is not much: in October 1609 Van Dyck is apprenticed, aged 10, to Henrick van Balen, and in February 1618 becomes a master in the Guild. Given this, she categorically rejects that he set up his own studio in the “Dom van Ceulen” as early as 1615/16, two years prior to his becoming a master, a suggestion persuasively argued by Katlijne van der Stighelen (Van Dyck 350, 1994). Such an emphatic refutation in effect reopens the discussion at a point when the notion of the early independent studio seemed to be gaining ground.
De Poorter is equally uncompromising when it comes to establishing a chronology for the early Antwerp years, which she maintains is “out of the question” (p. 16). Rejecting the idea of a stylistic progression from a rough style (Glück’s “derbe oder plumbe” group) to a smoother one, she sees Van Dyck consciously employing coarse brushwork to emulate the Italian masters. She further points out that the artist actively ‘muddles’ his techniques in his history paintings, using rough strokes for male features and smoother ones for females. But even though De Poorter’s reluctance to establish even the vaguest of chronologies is supported by forceful reasoning, it is hard to imagine she has not formed some idea of how that development might appear. One is as a consequence left with a vague sense of disappointment at not being allowed to share in – and above all – benefit from her considerable expertise as a connoisseur of early Van Dyck.
While it is becoming increasingly common for scholars to collaborate on monographs (as opposed to exhibitions where collaboration has been the norm for some time), the participation of four experts of equal standing must at the very least be unusual, if not indeed unique. One can only pay tribute to the dedication and resolve of the four authors of this ambitious Catalogue Raisonné, which on the one hand encompasses a unifying presentation of Van Dyck’s oeuvre while on the other testifying to the scholarly individuality and values of each contributor.