Tate is delighted to announce that it has acquired an important work by Sir Anthony van Dyck. The work, Portrait of Sir William Killigrew 1638, goes on display today, Monday 15 July 2002, and will significantly enhance the national collection of British art held by Tate and displayed predominantly at Tate Britain. The work would not have come to the nation without an in lieu of tax arrangement with HM Government and the catalyst of a donation of £100,000 from Christopher Ondaatje. This enabled Tate to pursue the purchase and secure £100,000 from the Patrons of British Art, and £50,000 from the National Art Collections Fund (Art Fund).
Portrait of Sir William Killigrew is a fine and sensitive three-quarter-length portrait from the middle to late period of van Dyck’s English career. The composition reflects van Dyck’s study of the work of the Italian master Titian, and the stormy landscape behind is painted with a particularly Venetian freedom. This picture, in turn, is an example of a composition by van Dyck that greatly influenced British artists of the eighteenth century, particularly Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough.
Sir William Killigrew was a playwright as well as a courtier to Charles I, and van Dyck depicts him as an elegant, meditative scholar. His head is nobly carried, his gaze withdrawn from the viewer. His features are rich with restrained emotion, the lips slightly parted. Killigrew leans pensively against the base of a column, and the viewer’s attention is drawn to a ring attached by a ribbon to his black jacket. This may be a sign of mourning - a ring worn in memory of a loved one. Killigrew is apparently austerely dressed - again a sign of seriousness, though his costly satin jacket is a sign of his status. His elegant right hand is tensed, belying the apparently relaxed nature of the pose.
The inscription on the portrait, lower left, ‘SVR WILLIVM KILLIGREW / A.Van.Dyck.pinxit. / 1638’, is in a form of lettering also found on other portraits of members of the Killigrew family by van Dyck. These include the companion portrait to the present work, of William Killigrew’s wife Mary Hill (now thought to be in a private collection, USA), and the three-quarter-length portrait of Killigrew’s younger brother Thomas - also a gentleman playwright - of almost identical dimensions (private collection, UK). This shared form of inscription suggests that these works may all originally have belonged to Thomas Killigrew. In the nineteenth century this painting was owned by the Carpenter family and subsequently by the Dukes of Newcastle. The work was last displayed twenty years ago in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition Van Dyck in England (1982-3, cat. no. 30).
Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, commented: ‘This is an extremely significant work, which also greatly enhances the Tate Collection. I am grateful for the generosity and collaboration of the Government, Christopher Ondaatje, our Patrons of British Art and, as so often before, the National Art Collections Fund’.
Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) has had a greater impact on British portrait painting than any other artist. He was born and trained in the art centre of Antwerp, where he became an assistant to Sir Peter Paul Rubens. He first visited England in 1620-21, before moving to Italy, where he assimilated the works of Titian and other Venetian painters. Out of these varying influences, he evolved new forms of portraiture. In 1632 he returned to England and entered the service of Charles I, of whom he painted a number of major portraits. Single-handedly, he reinvented the visual imagery of the Caroline court. He died in London in 1641.