Information about the exhibition’s opening, on October 24th, can be found here.
Anthony van Dyck – celebrated across Europe for his portraits of the rulers, military commanders, artists, and beauties of his age. He captured his subjects with unparalleled vitality while also clearly denoting their status. Yet Van Dyck’s path to fame was no easy one: the early years of his career were overshadowed by the famous Peter Paul Rubens: the role model, as much admired as he was unassailable, whose influence is most palpable in Van Dyck’s early history paintings. It was only in Italy and through the close study of Venetian painting – of Titian and Tintoretto – that Van Dyck came to find his own style.
The exhibition allows the visitor to get close to an artist who was always probing – wrestling with his own creativity and painterly goals. Van Dyck’s profound study of artistic role models ultimately saw him shift from history painting to portraiture, a genre that he made his own, rising to become one of the best-known and most sought-after painters of his age. He responded to this high demand by adopting efficient production methods and by ruling over a workshop of many assistants, each set a clearly defined task, so much so that he stands before us not only as Van Dyck the artist, but also, in a certain sense, as Van Dyck the entrepreneurial manager.
The insights into the artist’s life and work presented here draw on the results of several years’ research on the Van Dyck collection in Munich, in a scholarly project that preceded the exhibition. Its aim was to arrive at a more precise chronology of the paintings, to trace the evolution of the master’s personal style, and thus to derive criteria to distinguish between autograph works and those by the workshop. With the help of X-radiographs and infrared reflectograms (also on display in the exhibition), it is possible to trace how Van Dyck developed, discarded, and reworked his compositions, especially in the early history paintings, before finally arriving at an image that suited his conceptions. At the same time, the insights into the pictures’ genesis and the applied working methods shed light on one of the most productive artist’s workshops of the 17th century.
Featuring some 100 objects, among them numerous stellar loans from museums and private collections from across Europe and the USA, the show traces Van Dyck’s development as an artist. The first section is devoted to his early works. These are mainly religious and mythological paintings that display a clear indebtedness to Rubens. Characteristic of this period is the complex genesis of each work, as illustrated in the exhibition by the study drawings and sketches that went into each canvas’ making.
The works created after Van Dyck’s years in Italy form the focus of the second chapter in the exhibition, with the Marian paintings in particular reflecting Van Dyck’s artistic response to Titian. However, the numerous portraits from this period also mark the definitive new direction taken by Van Dyck’s art. His portraits are marked by a sensitive observation of personality, which he represented with an equally fine, almost tactile rendering of fabrics and drapery, presented against a backdrop of stately décor. This is also powerfully demonstrated by the impressive examples in the Munich collection of his portraits of contemporary artists, which make up the third section of the exhibition.
Opening the fourth chapter are ten grisaille oil sketches from the collection of the Alte Pinakothek, which were made as part of Van Dyck’s mammoth printmaking project, the ‘Iconography’: they reflect the work processes within the workshop, from the master’s own designs to the printmakers’ final execution in copperplate or etching. Both subsequent reproductive prints and the numerous copies made by his own specially qualified workshop assistants were instrumental in disseminating Van Dyck’s art, heightening his fame and securing his place in the history of art.
Under the patronage of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and His Majesty the King of the Belgians.
Curator of the exhibition and project management: Dr. Mirjam Neumeister
Curatorial assistance: Dr. Julia Thoma
Research project coordinators: Dr. Mirjam Neumeister, Eva Ortner, Jan Schmidt
For more information, see the museum’s website.
[Image caption: Anthony van Dyck, Self-Portrait, c. 1615. Oil on wood (oak), Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna]
From the museum’s press release, Aug. 23, 2019.