The student of Van Dyck's art naturally classifies the painter's works into four groups, corresponding chronologically to the four successive periods of his life. There was first the short period of his youth in Antwerp, when Rubens was the dominating influence upon his work. The portrait of Van der Geest, in the National Gallery, belongs to this time.

Then followed the four years' residence in Italy, when he fell under the spell of Titian. This was the period of the series of splendid portraits of noble Italian families which are to this day the pride of Genoa. Here too belong those lovely Madonna pictures which brought back for a time the golden age of Venetian art.

Upon his return to Antwerp, the six succeeding years gave him the opportunity to work out his own individuality. Some noble altar-pieces were produced in these years. Pleasant reminiscences of Titian still appear in such work, as in the often-used motif of baby angels; but in the subjects of the Crucifixion and the Pietà, he stands quite apart. These works are distinctly his own, and show genuine dramatic power.

During this Flemish period Van Dyck was appointed court painter by the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, Spanish Regent of the Netherlands. In this capacity he painted a notable series of portraits, including some of his most interesting works, which represent many of the most distinguished personages of the time.

The last nine years of Van Dyck's life were passed in England, where the family of Charles I. and the brilliant group of persons forming his court were the subjects of his final series of portraits. There were no altar-pieces in this period. At the beginning of his English work Van Dyck produced certain portraits unsurpassed during his whole life. The well-known Charles I., with an equerry, in the Louvre, is perhaps the best of these. His works after this were uneven in quality. His vitality was drained by social dissipations, and he lost the ambition to grow. Some features of the portraits became stereotyped, especially the hands. Yet from time to time he rose to a high level.

A painter so easily moulded by his environment cannot justly take rank among the world's foremost masters. A great creative mind Van Dyck certainly had not, but, gifted assimilator that he was, he developed many delightful qualities of his art. The combined results of his borrowing and his own innate gifts make him a notable and indeed a beloved figure in art history.

The leading note of his style is distinction. His men are all noblemen, his women all great ladies, and his children all princes and princesses. The same qualities of dignity and impressiveness are carried into his best altar-pieces. Sentiment they have also in no insignificant degree.

It is perhaps naming only another phase of distinction to say that his figures are usually characterized by repose. The sense of motion which so many of Reynolds's portraits convey is almost never expressed in Van Dyck's work, nor would it be consistent with his other qualities.

The magic gift of charm none have understood better when the subject offered the proper inspiration. We see this well illustrated in many portraits of young noblemen, such as the Duke of Lennox and Richmond and Lord Wharton.

Van Dyck's clever technique has preserved for us the many rich fabrics of his period, and his pictures would be a delight were these details their sole attraction. Heavy velvet, with the light playing deliciously in the creases, lustrous satins, broken by folds into many tints, delicate laces, elaborate embroideries, gleaming jewels—these are the never-failing accessories of his compositions. Yet while he loved rich draperies, he was also a careful student of the nude. Examples of his work range from the supple and youthful torso of Icarus to the huge muscular body of the beggar receiving St. Martin's cloak. The modelling of the Saviour's body in the Crucifixion and the Pietà shows both scientific knowledge and artistic handling.

Generally speaking, Van Dyck was little of a psychologist. His patrons belonged to that social class in which reserve is a test of breeding and thoughts and emotions are sedulously concealed. To penetrate the mask of the face and interpret the character of his sitter was an office he seldom took upon himself to perform. Yet he was capable of profound character study, especially in the portrayal of men. Even in so early a work as the so-called portrait of Richardot and his son, he revealed decided talent in this direction, while the portrait of Cardinal Bentivoglio, of the Italian period, and the portrait of Wentworth, in the English period, are masterly studies of the men they represent.

A common feature of his portraits is the averted glance of the sitter's eyes. This fact is in itself a barrier to our intimate knowledge of the subject, and also in a measure injures the sense of vitality expressed in the work. It must be confessed that Van Dyck, disciple though he was of Rubens and Titian, fell below these masters in the art of imparting life to a figure.

In certain mechanical elements of his art Van Dyck was conspicuously deficient. He seemed to have no ingenuity in devising poses for his subjects. Sitting or standing, the attitude is usually more or less artificial and constrained. The atmosphere of the studio is painfully evident. Never by any accident did he seem to catch the sitter off guard, so to speak, except in a few children's portraits. Here he expressed a vivacity and charm which seemed impossible to him with adult subjects.

In composition he is at his best in altar-pieces. In portrait groups, as in the pictures of the children of Charles I., he apparently made no effort to bring the separate figures into an harmonious unity. A single figure, or half length, he placed on his canvas with unerring sense of right proportion. Perhaps the best summary of Van Dyck's art has been made by the English critic, Claude Phillips, in these words: His was "not indeed one of the greatest creative individualities that have dominated the world of art, but a talent as exquisite in distinction, as true to itself in every successive phase, a technical accomplishment as surprising of its kind in solidity, brilliancy, and charm, as any that could be pointed to even in the seventeenth century."