Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Save the last self-portrait of Van Dyck

Van Dyck, one of the most famous portrait artists of all time painted three self-portraits while working in the UK.  One is in the Prado, one is in a private collection and one is now the subject of a Save the Van Dyck Campaign - after the Minister suspended its export licence following its sale to a private collector for £12.5 million!

In terms of self portraits by famous and skilled portrait artists this is up there with the very best in the World - ever!

Self Portrait (1641) by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599 - 1641)
Sir Anthony Van Dyck died in December 1641 age 42, a few months after the self portrait was completed.  He knew he was dying when he painted this portrait.  His moustache no longer has a jaunty air as can be seen in earlier portraits.  This is a painter of people who is painting himself for the last time. At the same time he is actively engaging with the viewer of his portrait in years to come.

It's been seen once before at a Tate Britain Van Dyck exhibition in 2009 - when it was a very popular painting with visitors.
There's now an opportunity to buy this work so that it remains in the UK and - very importantly - transfers to a public collection with a view to touring it all round the UK.  If the Van Dyck self-portrait is acquired by the NPG, they have made a commitment that there will be a three-year nationwide tour to
  • Turner Contemporary, Margate, 
  • Manchester Art Gallery, 
  • Dulwich Picture Gallery, 
  • Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, 
  • Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and
  • The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.
  • and it's probable that other venues will also want to sign up to the tour if it is saved for the UK.
That means it becomes accessible not only to all those living in London and the UK - but also in the future - to all those living further afield who get to visit London and see the paintings in the National Portrait Gallery.

This post outlines
  • details of the campaign and how you can donate
  • how you can see this very important painting
  • why Van Dyck is so important to portraiture in this country
  • including
    • more about Van Dyck and portraiture
    • more about Van Dyck and Britain
    • more about Van Dyck and his paint

The Campaign to save the world's most expensive "selfie"

Save this selfie!
The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and The Art Fund (the national fundraising charity for art) have combined to help save the Van Dyck. The proposal is to buy the painting so that everyone can enjoy it.

It's the largest campaign ever for both the NPG and the Art Fund.  The latter  has a track record of helping to fund Van Dycks for various British Institutions around the country.

If the portrait painting were to be acquired by the National Portrait Gallery it would very probably be the most important in the Gallery's history. Opportunities to acquire portraits of this quality are very rare.

This campaign aims to raise £12.5 million in 3 months - or at the very least demonstrate that there is a very real chance of meeting the target required to acquire the painting.  It has until 13th July to raise the full sum.

In 10 days, £1.2 million has been raised.  This comprises

  • £500,000 from the Art Fund and 
  • £700,000 from the acquisition budget of the National Portrait Gallery plus money from their Portrait Fund which was set up specifically for this type of acquisition.  
The campaign will also be seeking funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

However the rest of the funding will need to be stumped up by patrons of the arts and the likes of you and me.

You can make a donation

How to see the Van Dyck

The painting is now displayed adjacent to the Seventeeth Century Galleries on the Second Floor of the National Portrait Gallery.  Admission is free.

It's not a portrait which reproduces well as a photograph and I would urge you to go and see it while you can. After all, this may be your last chance to see this self portrait by a very great portrait artist.  Do make the effort to go and see it!

If you want to see more Van Dycks, pop next door to the National Gallery and go to the Mond Room, as I did yesterday. Here you can see a very significant and fine collection of eight portraits by Van Dyck - including his extremely large portrait of King Charles I on his horse.

Why Van Dyck is important to portraiture in the UK

Sandy Nairne, the Director of the National Gallery, has made a video to tell us all why he thinks this painting is so important to the UK.

Professor Karen Hearn
with the Van Dyke Self portrait
Van Dyke's impact on British portraiture was revolutionary. 
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery
I also had the opportunity yesterday to speak to Catharine MacLeod, the National Portrait Gallery’s Curator of Seventeenth Century Portraits and Professor Karen Hearn, the curator of the 'Van Dyck and Britain' exhibition at Tate Britain in 2009,  the Curator of 16th & 17th Century British Art at the Tate Galleries (1992-2012) and Honorary Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, University College London.

I asked them why exactly Van Dyke is so important to portraiture in Britain.

Along with other artists working between 1630 and 1660 (Rembrandt, Rubens, Velaquez etc), Van Dyck had a huge impact on painting for the next few hundred years.

However Van Dyck was particularly influential within Britain because he was invited - as a man who had already achieved painting superstar status - to London by King Charles in 1632.  The King treated him as courtier and knighted him and gave him rooms at Court. He also gave him a house and studio at Blackfriars - on the river and later knighted him where the King used to visit him for a sitting - rather than Van Dyck visiting the palace for a sitting as happens today.  Van Dyck ended up painting the court and other people who were people who were important at the time.

In effect, Van Dyck changes the status of the portrait artists forever.  They were no longer seen as journeyman crafts people - they are now seen as people with a professional status.

More importantly he had a major impact on the way people were painted and what type of approach was taken to portraiture. He influenced with the great portrait painters who worked in the UK right the way through to John Singer Sargent.  The changes are summarised below.

Tudor & Jacobean portraiture
Portraiture after Van Dyck
  • Stiff formal stilted poses 
  • Fascination with surface details of dress and accessories 
  • Status oriented 
  • Very precise with lots of little brush strokes

  • Much more natural poses 
  • More emphasis on the individual and less on their status and dress 
  • A more fluid style of painting – more painterly portraits 
  • Influenced great portrait artists in the UK upto and including John Singer Sargent

Tudor and Jacobean portraiture
in the Sixteenth Century Galleries at the National Portrait Gallery
Sir Edmund Verney (1640) by Sir Anthony Van Dyke

More about Van Dyck and his self portrait

For more about this portrait and Van Dyck read the reviews in the newspapers

More about Van Dyck and Britain

Links on the Tate Britain website

More about Van Dyck and his paint

Here are some links from the National Gallery

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