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Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

After Rubens, van Dyck was the leading Flemish painter in the first half of the seventeenth century. Van Dyck assisted Rubens in his studio, and Rubens referred to him as 'the best of my pupils'. With the encouragement of the Earl of Arundel, Van Dyck arrived in England in 1620. After a year, he left for Italy where he toured, painted aristocratic portraits in Genoa and elsewhere, and returned to Flanders in 1627. Based in Antwerp, van Dyck painted portraits, mythological and religious scenes for Europe's collectors, including Charles I of England.

By 1632, van Dyck was in England as court artist to Charles I, who knighted him. In return, he produced the most memorable portraits of Charles I, his family and courtiers, for example, Charles I on Horseback (1637/8; National Gallery, London) and the Head of Charles I in Three Positions (1635, Windsor Castle) which was painted for the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini to follow. By 1640, van Dyck hoped to work in Paris but poor health forced him to return to London, where he died in 1641. He was buried in Old St Paul's Cathedral, London, where the king erected a monument to him.

It was in Italy that van Dyck acquired the refined and elegant picture style that characterizes his work, particularly his English portraits. The proud, slender figures, elegantly dressed in rich costumes, typify the traditional image of the cavalier court of Charles I.

His few landscapes in watercolour mark the beginning of the British tradition in this medium. Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88) was only one of many later artists who were influenced by van Dyck.

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