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.

A fine engraving of this incomparable jewel gives a very exact idea of the arrangement and dominating qualities of the picture; but how can we translate in black and white the shimmering of material, the delicacy of tone, the colouring of those robes, rose, blue, and white, of exquisite harmony and incomparable finesse.

What shall we say of the physiognomy, of the grace, and also the penetrating charm of those three child figures? Such a work would alone suffice for the glory of a museum, above all when it has kept its freshness like the flowering of genius.

Every moment of the painter was consecrated to the various members of the royal family. That was natural enough. Charles I. never desisted from watching his clever protégé at work, and spending his leisure in his studio,—the habitual rendez-vous of the young gentlemen and the beauties of fashion. The establishment of the artist permitted him to receive such guests becomingly. Hired musicians were instructed to divert his aristocratic models during the hours of work. Thus he was enabled to attract and hold at his home the very best society in London. Every day at his table sat numerous guests chosen from the élite of the artists and littérateurs mingled with the greatest personages. Carried into the whirlwind of this light world so full of entertainment, Van Dyck hastened to enjoy all the pleasures and exhaust all the delights, without considering his strength, or hoarding his health....

The King would never let him stop painting the pictures of his children. On his side, Van Dyck brought to this task all his art, we might say all his heart. Doubtless, he derived from Rubens and also from Van Balen that very lively intelligence for the graces of childhood. Also, when he occupied himself in rendering those delicious faces of rosy and chubby babies, in the midst of glimmering stuffs, he found colours of incomparable freshness....

Every artist of high degree carries within himself the ideal type whose expression he pursues without pause. This search imprints upon each of his works the characteristic mark of genius: originality. Thus we recognize at the first glance the giants that sprang from the brain of Michael Angelo, the enigmatical sirens of da Vinci, and those superhuman figures with which Raphael has peopled his immortal compositions. Titian lived in a world of kings and magnificent princes. Correggio's individuality is grace of form and charm of colour; his portion is not to be scorned. The exuberant nature of Rubens betrays itself in his least important canvases. The personages of his innumerable pictures share in common the affinities of race and family which make them recognizable everywhere.

Anthonius Van Dyck obeys, likewise, the common law. Each of his works is marked by that sign of originality, which in him consists of the incessant pursuit of elegance and distinction. Distinction,—that is the gift par excellence, the dominating quality of this artist, that which constitutes his individuality, that which marks with an indelible imprint all his glorious works, from the first gropings of the pupil of Rubens to those immortal images of Charles I., his family, and his court.

Whether he belongs to the highest spheres of society or whether he comes from the simple bourgeoisie of Antwerp, the model receives from Van Dyck's brush the most aristocratic mien. One would insist that the painter spent his life only in a world of gentlemen and patricians. Never does he surprise even the men that he knows the best, his most intimate friends, in the familiar carelessness of their daily occupations. Rarely, very rarely, does it come into his mind to group them in some intimate interior scene. Everybody is made to pose before posterity; each sitter has the smile to give his or her descendants the most exalted idea of his or her station and manners. Not one is vulgar, not one dares to show himself in his ordinary work, or in the careless good nature of daily life. Nothing alters their immutable serenity; nothing troubles the unalterable placidity of their physiognomy. Let others paint the people of taverns, the world of kermesses and peasants! Van Dyck wished to be and to live for ever the painter of aristocracy.

Antoine Van Dyck—sa vie et sonnœuvre. (Paris, 1882).