Van Dyck as Andy Warhol

January 13 2016

Image of Van Dyck as Andy Warhol

Picture: (with apologies to the National Portrait Gallery, London)

Much harrumphing here at AHN HQ this morning, after Jonathan Jones in The Guardian equated Van Dyck with Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol!

In his review of the new show at Dulwich centred on Van Dyck's recently acquired Self-Portrait, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, Jones writes:

Van Dyck is a flatterer of immense gifts, who never manages the depth and seriousness of his fellow 17th-century portraitists Velazquez and Rembrandt. Or does he? Van Dyck is the Andy Warhol of his time: apparently superficial yet somehow hitting intimate truths that can take you aback.

The idea that Van Dyck was a 'flatterer' seems to have taken hold in the recent literature, though of course it's almost impossible for us to tell (since his sitters are dead) whether he really was. Certainly, his portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria do not present them as the ugly curiosities of Goya's Spanish court (though Goya was aided by generations of Habsburg inbreeding).

But we shouldn't forget that one of the most detailed accounts we have of a sitter responding to a portrait in 17th Century England (from Eleanor Wortley, later Countess of Sussex) actually complains that Van Dyck didn't flatter her enough:

[...] the picture is very ill favoured, makes me quite out of love with myself, the face is so big and so fat that it pleases me not at all. It looks like one of the winds puffing - but truly I think it is like the original. If I ever come to London before Sir Van Dyck go, I will get him to mend my picture, for though I be ill favoured I think that makes worse than I am.

Anyway, inexplicably there are still some tickets left for my lecture on Van Dyck's self-portraits at Dulwich on 21st January. Sign up here!

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