Van Dyck and Britain: explore the exhibition, room 1

Paul Van Somer, ‘Lady Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent’ c.1619
Paul Van Somer
Lady Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent c.1619

Painting in England before van Dyck, and van Dyck’s first visit to England 1620–1

Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), an assistant to the great Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, spent about six months in London in 1620, where he performed some ‘special service’ for the king before returning to Flanders. The Scottish king James VI had become James I of England after Elizabeth I died in 1603, uneasily uniting the two nations.

Little is known about the lives and careers of painters in Britain in the early seventeenth century. Artists here were often Netherlandish incomers. The leading English-born artists, such as Robert Peake, painted in a comparatively linear, non-naturalistic style. From about 1616 onwards, further migrant artists from the northern Netherlands came over to work for the royal family and leading courtiers. They produced sober, serious images of their aristocratic clients.

Van Dyck’s first visit to London was short, but the profound changes he would bring to British painting would soon become apparent.

The 1620s

Daniel Mytens was the main royal painter of the 1620s his portrait of Charles I is in this room. Cornelius Johnson was another artist active in London. Although van Dyck’s first visit to England had been brief, his influence was immediate. Echoes in the pose of Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke by Mytens of van Dyck’s earlier portrait of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel are unmistakeable.

In 1621, van Dyck left England (via Flanders) for Italy. There he studied earlier Italian artists, particularly Titian, and took occasional commissions for portraits of British travellers, including Sir Robert and Lady Shirley whom he painted while in Rome. He then returned to his native Flanders where he painted a portrait of Endymion Porter, who was to remain a close friend and whom he painted several times.

Van Dyck came back to England in 1632 at the invitation of James’s son Charles I, and was court painter until he died aged 42. Although he spent less than eight years in England (with a number of extended sojourns back on the Continent during that time) he revolutionised British painting, leaving a stylistic legacy that would dominate portraiture for 250 years.

Works in this room

Anthony van Dyck
Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel 1620–1
Oil on canvas 1028 x 794 mm
The J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Anthony van Dyck
The Continence of Scipio c.1620–1
Oil on canvas 1830 x 2325 mm
The Governing Body of Christ Church, Oxford

Cornelius Johnson
Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman 1632
Oil on canvas 762 x 609 mm
Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California. Gift of the Art Collectors Council.

Daniel Mytens
Charles I 1628
Oil on canvas 2191 x 1520 mm
Her Majesty The Queen (The Royal Collection Trust)

Daniel Mytens
Portrait of Philip Herbert, later 4th Earl of Pembroke c.1625
Oil on canvas 1320 x 1020 mm
The Marquess of Salisbury

Anthony van Dyck
Self-portrait c.1620
Oil on canvas 1197 x 879 mm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jules Bache Collection, 1949

Robert Peake
Henry, Prince of Wales and Sir John Harington in the Hunting Field 1603
Oil on canvas 2019 x 1473 mm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1944

Robert Peake
Portrait of Princess Elizabeth c.1610
Oil on canvas 1543 x 794 mm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Kate T. Davison, in memory of her husband, Henry Pomeroy Davison, 1951

Anthony van Dyck
Sir Robert Shirley 1622
Oil on canvas 2000 x 1334 mm
Petworth House, The Egremont Collection (acquired in lieu of tax by H.M. Treasury in 1957 and subsequently transferred to The National Trust)

Anthony van Dyck
Teresa, Lady Shirley 1622
Oil on canvas 2000 x 1334 mm
Petworth House, The Egremont Collection (acquired in lieu of tax by H.M. Treasury in 1957 and subsequently transferred to The National Trust)

Daniel Mytens
Portrait of King James I 1621
Oil on canvas 1486 x 1006 mm
National Portrait Gallery, London

Cornelius Johnson
Portrait of Sir Thomas Hanmer 1631
Oil on canvas 775 x 622 mm
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. Purchased 1944

Cardinal Georges d’Armagnac and his Secretary Guillaume Philandrier c.1536–9
Oil on canvas 1041 x 1143 mm
The Duke of Northumberland, Alnwick

Anthony van Dyck
Endymion Porter 1628
Oil on canvas 1145 x 940 mm
Private collection