February 16, 2009 / 4:51 PM / 10 years ago

Show examines van Dyck's influence on British art

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A new exhibition opening in London this week explores the work of 17th century Flemish master Anthony van Dyck, a portrait painter whose relaxed style made him a favorite of kings and courtiers.

A woman walks past a painting by Belgian artist Anthony Van Dyck called "St Martin dividing his Cloak" (1618-20) at a major new Van Dyck exhibition at the Art Museum of Antwerp in northern Belgium May 14, 1999. REUTERS/Yves Herman

“Van Dyck and Britain,” at London’s Tate Britain gallery, documents the influence of the artist on British portraiture from his day until the early 20th century, with about 60 works depicting Stuart monarch Charles I and his court.

Born in Antwerp in 1599, van Dyck spent eight years in the British capital, living at Blackfriars near the River Thames and painting some 400 works.

A student of Rubens, van Dyck proved so popular that he received royal commissions almost immediately after arriving in England in 1620. His London house even had a specially built pier that allowed the king to visit by boat.

“It’s looking at his impact in his lifetime on other artists here... right through to the twentieth century,” curator Karen Hearn told Reuters on Monday, a van Dyck portrait of Charles I, his wife and their two eldest children towering over her.

Also exhibited are paintings by van Dyck’s contemporaries and later artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and John Singer Sargent, all of whom drew on the Flemish artist’s work.

“He very much transforms portrait painting,” Hearn said, crediting him with breaking from the linear portraits favored by the Tudor kings and queens.

To highlight van Dyck’s more vivacious style, just meters from Robert Peake’s staid portrait of Princess Elizabeth, done in 1610, hangs van Dyck’s take on the Countess of Carlisle, in blue with a golden cloak, painted in 1637.

“Van Dyck introduces elegance... a relaxed quality,” said Hearn. “Paradoxically, the more relaxed a sitter looks the more it confirms their status at the top of the tree. This is something his clients obviously love.”

Van Dyck’s livelier vision even influenced artists into the 20th century, Hearn said, with Laszlo de Lombos’s 1915 portrait “Mrs George Sandys,” depicted in a shoulderless purple dress with two dogs at her feet, modeled on van Dyck’s Carlisle picture.

“Artists in Britain keep using van Dyck as a resource to go back to,” Hearn said, emphasizing the artist’s enduring influence.

Also on display are van Dyck’s portrait of a pensive young man resting against a column and traveler William Fielding in a red-striped suit, shown standing with a turbaned boy under a palm tree.

“Well-established families probably have actual van Dycks of their ancestors in their house, so for them it’s very appropriate to have a modern reinterpretation,” Hearn said.

The exhibition runs from February 18 to May 17 in London.

Reporting by Catherine Bosley; Editing by Paul Casciato

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