The Tate Britain has announced today the opening of a new exhibition, Van Dyck and Britain, which will run from 18th February to 17th March this year. I first came across the work of Anthony van Dyck after I went to see Charles I: King and Martyr; a small collection of images at the National Portrait Gallery, demonstrating the different reactions of artists towards Charles I’s execution. That tiny exhibition has finished now, so I hope this new one at the Tate will give an even more detailed and fascinating insight into the early 17th century monarchy.
Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) was the greatest painter in seventeenth-century Britain. Though trained in Flanders, he had a huge impact on British cultural life as the principal painter at King Charles I’s ostensibly elegant court, where his impact was similar to that of Hans Holbein at the court of Henry VIII.
Van Dyck was born and trained in the great art centre of Antwerp. He made a brief visit to London in 1620-21 before returning in 1632 to King Charles I’s court. Intensely ambitious and hugely productive, he re-invented portrait-painting in Britain, retaining his pre-eminence until his premature death at the age of 42. Working in a period of intense political ferment during the run-up to the British Civil War, van Dyck portrayed many of the leading characters of the period. His iconic portraits of King Charles I have shaped our view of the Stuart monarchy, while the compositions he used influenced many future generations of British painters.