Van Dyck – Masters Of Painting

“IN the month of April Van Dyck was in London ‘for good.’ He found a temporary home with his friend Geldorp in Blackfriars. All the precinct was astir at the coming to the peculiar home of artists in London of one of the foremost men of all his time. Shortly, Whitehall was astir also ; king and painter stood in the presence of each other. Van Dyck was a cavalier in bearing, with tact and taste. To such a man Charles was, of course, gracious. The monarch lodged the artist at the expense of the Crown (other-wise, at the cost of the people). Inigo Jones was commissioned to fashion a dwelling for him in Blackfriars, and a country house at Eltham. Ere a few months had passed, the artist, thus housed by a sovereign, was named ‘Painter in Ordinary to His Majesty.’ That knighthood was added to his employment, yet not wanted to dignify it, was a natural consequence. Charles not only touched Van Dyck gaily on the shoulder, but threw over it a gold chain, from which hung the king’s portrait, surrounded by diamonds.

“Van Dyck had earned the honor by glorious work. Within a few months of his arrival he had painted a large family picture, representing the king, queen, Prince of Wales, and Princess Mary, for one hundred pounds. He had, moreover, executed the portraits of the king, the French king’s brother, the Archduchess Isabella, the Prince and Princess of Orange, at twenty pounds each. For the same reward he painted a ‘ Vitellius,’ and for a fourth of the sum he ‘ mended’ a Galba. A warrant was issued for the payment of the total. This payment, the knighthood, the chain, and the ‘diamond portrait,’ were graceful acknowledgments of merit. Van Dyck, seeing that the king was resolved to treat him as a gentleman, was equally resolved to act up to the standard, and live like a prince.

” But he worked like a man to enable him to keep this state. .. .

“Van Dyck and fashion ruled the hour. His studio in Blackfriars was graced with as noble company as Whitehall ; indeed, with the same company. The king himself was often there, and with him the artist’s other illustrious, and perhaps more liberal, patrons, Strafford, Northumberland (no longer in the Tower), Pembroke, Somerset, and a dozen other of the splendid nobility of the time. Fancy may reproduce that studio, with its aristocratic inmates, silent in the presence of Charles, but loud enough in his absence, or with his license to speak, being present. Some paid homage of ultra-gallantry to Margaret Leman. Others gave words of condescending praise, now and then, to Van Dyck’s accomplished assistants, who, at various times, were to be found schooling themselves in his studio, and learning how to add value to their works by giving to them the name of their master.

” Van Dyck was as much at his ease in the palaces and noble homes of England as princes and nobles were in the painter’s studio.”

Though impartial history forbids us to accept Charles I. as having been all that his portraits by Van Dyck tempt us to believe, the cavalier king was a true and loving husband, and a fond father to his children.

Of them Van Dyck painted several groups, some of which remain among the best productions of the great Flemish artist.

Herr Schneider has given us a picture of Van Dyck at work upon the portraits of the three eldest children of Charles. The king’s eldest son, afterward Charles II., stands near the easel, his sister Mary is playing with a dog, and James, Duke of York, the youngest of the three, is being coaxed by some of the ladies-in-waiting to pose for the painter, with an apple in his hands.

In the gallery at Turin may be seen a superb group by Van Dyck which depicts these three infants, and was painted in 1635. Charles in a scarlet dress lays his hand upon the head of a fine dog ; next him is the Princess Mary in white satin, and then comes Master James, — unfortunate king-to-be, — wearing a quaint cap and a blue silk frock, and holding an apple between his hands. It is this last little figure which, separated from the painted group or reproduced from the drawing, we see so often under the name of ” Baby Stuart.” Jules Guiffrey says of this picture that ” Such a work would alone suffice for the glory of a museum.”

The royal collection at Windsor has a group by Van Dyck, done in 1637, which includes two more of the children of Charles and Henrietta Maria. These are Elizabeth and Anne, two princesses who did not live to reach womanhood.

The little Anne died in the winter of 1640, at the age of four years, and a touching story is related of her last moments. Just before her death, being told that she ought to pray, the little innocent answered that she did not think she could say her long prayer (meaning the Lord’s Prayer), but she would say her short one, and repeated, ” Lighten mine eyes, O Lord, that I sleep not the sleep of death.”

Princess Elizabeth, after being imprisoned in St. James’s Palace, was carried to Carisbrooke Castle, in the Isle of Wight, after her father’s execution. Here, with her little brother, Henry, Duke of Gloucester, as her only companion, she lived until the 8th of September, 1650, when she fell a victim to a fever. ” She expired alone,” says one writer, ” sitting in her apartments at Carisbrooke Castle, her fair cheek resting on a Bible — the last gift of her murdered father, and which had been her only consolation in the last sad months of her life.” Elizabeth was in her fifteenth year only. She was buried at Newport, where Queen Victoria erected a memorial to her in the church.

Van Dyck painted a picture, now at Amsterdam, of her elder sister, Mary, when ten years old, standing beside her future husband, William, Prince of Orange, a hand-some boy of about eleven. He died suddenly, of smallpox, when only twenty-two, and three days later Mary became the mother of a son, afterward William III. of England.

Charles II, was painted several times when a boy by Van Dyck. Miss Strickland, in her life of Henrietta Maria, prints a letter from the queen to her old friend, Madame St. George, written soon after the birth of Charles.

” This letter proves that Henrietta, despite of the proverb which affirms that even the crows think their own nestlings fair, was not blind to the fact that her boy was a fright. The likeness of some tawny Provencal ancestor of Henri Quatre must have revived in the person of the Prince of Wales, for the elegant Charles I. and the beautiful Henrietta had no right to expect so plain a little creature as their first born. It is amusing enough to read the queen’s description of the solemn ugliness of her fat baby :

“The husband of the nurse of my son going to France about some business of his wife, I write you this letter by him, believing that you will be very glad to ask him news of my son, of whom I think you have seen the portrait that I sent to the queen my mother. He is so ugly, that I am ashamed of him ; but his size and fatness supply the want of beauty. I wish you could see the gentleman, for he has no ordinary mien ; but he is so serious in all that he does, that I cannot help deeming him far wiser than myself.”