THE CHILDREN OF CHARLES I.

(VAN DYCK)

JULES GUIFFREY

Upon his arrival [in England] Anthonius was temporarily lodged at the house of Edward Norgate, a protégé of the Earl of Arundel, charged by the King to provide for all the needs of his guest. Another such installation could not be repeated. The sovereign himself took pains to find a suitable establishment for his painter. Mr. Carpenter cites a very curious note on this subject. Charles I. wrote with his own hand,—"To speak with Inigo Jones concerning a house for Vandike." This house demanded the combination of certain conditions very difficult to meet with. It was necessary that the artist should be comfortably established; and, on the other hand, the King wished him not to be too far from the palace. The architect was able to satisfy all these requirements. A winter residence was found for Van Dyck in Blackfriars on the right bank of the Thames. From his palace in Whitehall, Charles I., crossing the river in his barge, could conveniently reach the studio of his favourite painter. He took great pleasure in watching him at work and loved to forget himself during the long hours charmed by the wit and innate distinction of his entertainer. During the summer season, Van Dyck lived at Eltham in the county of Kent. He probably occupied an apartment or some dependency of one of the palaces of the Crown. An annual pension of two hundred pounds sterling was assigned to him, first of all to enable him to support a household worthy of the title bestowed upon him,—"Principal Painter in Ordinary." The portraits commanded by the King were paid for independently. The remuneration for his works finally provided the artist with that brilliant and gorgeous life which had been his ambition for so long and which an assiduous industry had not been able to procure for him in Flanders. He had no less than six servants and several horses; at all periods, as we know, he always bestowed much care and refinement upon his toilet. Frequenting an elegant and frivolous court could not but develop this natural disposition for all the quests of luxury.

Portrait of the Children of Charles I. Van Dyck.

Portrait of the Children of Charles I.
Van Dyck.

Three months after his arrival, Van Dyck was included in a creation of knights made on July 5, 1632. Charles I. added still more to this favour by the gift of a chain of gold bearing a miniature of himself enriched with diamonds. In many of his portraits the artist is represented with this mark of royal munificence.

It now devolved upon him to justify the high position to which he found himself so rapidly elevated. An act of the Privy Seal pointed out by Mr. Carpenter shows us that Van Dyck lost no time in satisfying the impatience of his royal protector. On August 8, 1632, the sum of £224 was allowed him from the royal treasury for various works of painting. The enumeration of these pictures furnishes precious details for the price of the artist's works. It seems that from the very beginning, a kind of tariff was adopted with common accord, according to the size of each portrait. The price of a whole length portrait was £25; other canvases only fetched £20; that refers probably to personages at half length. Finally, a large family picture, representing the King, the Queen, and their two children attained the sum of £100. At a later period, these figures were increased and the price of a full length portrait was raised to £40.

But how many of these works, in which, however, very great qualities shine, pale before a canvas of the Master preserved in the Museum of Turin! We mean the picture in which the three young children of Charles I. are grouped—the Prince of Wales, the Princess Henrietta Maria who became the Duchess of Orleans, and the Duke of York. All three are still in long dresses, therefore the eldest was about five or six years old at most; all three are standing up, and for that reason we cannot give the youngest less than eighteen months or two years. This circumstance dates the picture—it was painted in 1635.

We know the various portraits of the children of Charles I. disseminated in the museums and palaces of Europe; we have seen and admired the picture in Dresden, those at Windsor, the sketch in the Louvre, and the canvas in Berlin, a copy of the great composition which belongs to the Queen of England. Very well! there is not the slightest hesitation possible—not one of these pictures is comparable to that in Turin. Nowhere does there exist a work of Van Dyck's so delicate, so well preserved, and so perfect in all its points. With what care and worship this picture is surrounded no one can imagine. The most watchful precautions and the most respectful regard are at its service. We have been told that the directors of the Museum constantly refuse to move it for the convenience of photographers. A little detail hardly worth mentioning, one would say! We do not think so. We consider that the authorities of the Museum are right a thousand times, when they possess such a chef-d'œuvre, not to neglect any precaution, however insignificant it may appear, to assure it a longer duration.