Van Dyck or Rubens? (ctd.)

August 19 2014

Image of Van Dyck or Rubens? (ctd.)

Picture: Courtauld Collection

Or neither? The above picture has recently gone on display at the Courtauld Gallery in London. It's currently catalogued as 'Van Dyck'. I think was last published by the late Erik Larsen (whose Van Dyck catalogue raisonne is, alas, probably the worst single demonstration of connoisseurship ever published). 

The picture was not included in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne published by Yale. And I think rightly, for my instincts keep leading me towards Rubens. But I wouldn't want to go to the stake on it. While it's almost certainly good enough to be by one or the other, it dates to that fiendishly difficult period of about 1615-18, when Van Dyck was able to paint almost entirely in Rubens' style.

Unfortunately, this area of scholarship has become very muddled of late, with there seeming to be something of a fashion amongst some Rubens scholars to say things are 'early Van Dyck', despite the outright rejection of such attributions by Van Dyck scholars. The continuing (but entirely unnecessary) uncertainty over Rubens portrait of a young Van Dyck [Rubenshuis] is illustrative of this (incidentally, Larsen thought that picture was by a Scottish artist called Jamesone, of an unknown sitter!) I showed some good photos of the Courtauld picture to a leading and highly respected Van Dyck authority, who also thought it more like Rubens. The characterisation reminds me of an exquisite portrait of a Carmelite Monk sold by Sotheby's in 2011 as Van Dyck, but which had always been known as a work by Rubens, and even descended from that artist. Again, the attribution to Van Dyck of that picture was rejected by Van Dyck scholars. 

The Courtauld very kindly allowed me to see the picture in their stores a couple of months ago. If you happen to see it, I'd be interested to know what you think about the attribution.

Update - a reader writes:

Was never wholly convinced by the van Dyck attribution but wouldn’t want to bet on it either.

The thing that intrigues me is that such a fine painting is in store.  Seems to be just one more example of a significant work in the Courtauld’s collection not on display and proving yet again what unsuitable premises the Somerset House Fine Rooms are: not enough space to cater for the collection, rooms not being conducive to exhibition (poor side-lighting from windows and works over fireplaces), etc.

It was a disastrous decision to move out of their galleries in Woburn Square – generally reckoned to be the finest small spaces in London being both intimate and light-filled, I wonder what’s happened to them.

And having moved, what do they do? Parcel up the famous Great Room and block out the light.  What’s worse, they’ve had at least two goes – and two lots of funding – at improving the public spaces.

Fine paintings in store is nothing knew alas. At any time, 80% of the national collection is in store. I never knew the Woburn Square galleries. I'm a fan of Somerset House, I must say.

Update II - a reader tells us what happened to the Woburn Square galleries, as highlighted in this 2004 University of London report (p.24):

In February 1991 the University granted a 21 year lease of the former Courtauld Gallery in Woburn Square to University College, London for a payment of £900,000.

Bargain. One might say that it's a shame the University isn't as generous when it comes to the Warburg Institute. But we should note that the introduction of the report states that the UL wrote off £7.5m when assigning the lease of Somerset House to the Courtauld Institute.

Update III - a reader wonders:

In response to the van Dyck or Rubens attribution. Instead of neither, could it be by both? A collaboration of sorts? I’m certainly not well versed enough in the career of either artist to offer an erudite opinion, but as they were in the same studio at the same time could the master have completed a section and then his student (van Dyck) have painted another? 

Quite possibly!

Update IV - a reader from the Courtauld writes:

The move to Somerset House was meant to reunite the Institute with its collection (which was not the case before, when the collection was in Woburn Square and the Institute in Portman Square). We are actively working on plans to restore the Great Room to its former glory.


Update V - a reader adds:

When the Van Dyck 'portrait of a man in an armchair' was sold from The Lord Penrhyn collection by Sotheby's in 1924 it was sold as Rubens, so the pendulum seems to be swinging back...

Update VI - a Facebooking reader writes:

I have Le Connoisseur (Facebook) on the case and members of the Rubenianum are helping as well with your query regarding the Courtauldʼs Rubens or Van Dyck painting ! Will get back to you if anything is forthcoming. [...] "fat files" in Antwerp sound promising.

Here's a link to the Facebook group, but you need to be a Facebooker to get into it. Which I'm not. 

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