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v Foreign Eyes Painters from the Low Countries in Seventeenth-Century England England has from the beginning been a nation of writers but it is only from the early eighteenth century that we can claim to have produced a body of native painters, responsible for providing the lion's share of the nation's pictures. With the exception of miniature painters practising a specialist art and the occasional native of distinction such as William Dobson, John Michael Wright and Francis Barlow, the history of painting in England during the seventeenth century was very largely the creation of foreign artists, particularly from the Netherlands, both north and south, who either came on short visits or for various reasons took up residence here. In the later sixteenth century they were often refugees fleeing from war and religious persecution, whereas a century later economic hardship sometimes prompted their emigration to England. Portraiture, that essential accompaniment to the life of a court, was very largely served by foreigners, primarily by Anthony van Dyck and Daniel Mytens before the Civil War, and by Peter Lely and Godfrey Kneller after the Restoration - with the result that our image of the Stuart kings is very largely their creation. Although portraiture was the predominant activity of painting in seventeenth-century England, there were other categories of subject-matter painted by the visiting artists from the Low Countries and some of what they produced forms the subject of this essay. Although the hostile political situation between England and the Northern Netherlands during the reign of Queen Elizabeth i continued under her successor James 1, largely owing to maritime and mercantile rivalry, this did not prevent the influx of Dutch as well as of Flemish artists, who served to establish flourishing artistic and cultural ties between the countries. James i, although he recognised the political need for painting, took little interest in art, but his consort Anne of Denmark was a keen collector and patron, who, it was reported, preferred pictures to people. Despite the King's lack of interest, his reign witnessed the beginnings of the great tradition of English collectors, of whom the most notable were the Earl of Arundel and the Duke of Buckingham. These two noblemen were, for instance, responsible for attracting the young Van Dyck, anxious to establish himself away 190

Anthony van Dyck, The Continence of Scipio. i 620-162 i. Canvas, Ih X g The Governing Governing Body, Christ Church, oxford.

from the shadow of Rubens, to England in 1620. Apart from painting a straightforward portrait of Arundel and a portrait historie of Buckingham and his wife as Venus and Adonis, as well as carrying out an unspecified commission for the King, Van Dyck produced, in his The Continence of Scipio, probably painted for Buckingham, the first major picture in England which was not a portrait. Arranged across a large surface with narrow depth and painted in his lively linear manner of this period, the Roman ruler, in an exemplum of generosity and continence, is seen after his conquest of New Carthage reuniting the beautiful female captive to her betrothed, Allucius, and handing over to her as a dowry the ransom gifts her parents had offered him. (Whether the three principals are to be identified as James I and Buckingham and his wife, as has been suggested, remains very much open to doubt.) With such a developing star in its midst, the English court must have grieved to see Van Dyck depart after only four months, ostensibly to travel for a period of eight months but in reality for an absence of eleven years. In 1625 James was succeeded by his younger son Charles and there began one of the great eras of English patronage and collecting, not to be rivalled until the reign of George iv. Both Buckingham, at least for the three years before his assassination, and Arundel were still on hand to act as influential artistic advisers and exempla. In addition Sir Dudley Carleton, English ambassador at The Hague from i 6 i 6 to 1625 and again from 1626 to 1628 was to serve as a perceptive and highly effective 'talent-spotter'. He was responsible for introducing the painting of the strange still-life painter Jan Torrentius to the King, who in an enlightened act of patronage invited th painter to come to England to save him from a recentlyimposed twentyy p g year gaolsentence for membership of the outlawed Rosicrucian Society


and apparent blasphemy and immorality. Unfortunately Torrentius, inclined to melancholia, produced nothing for his English saviour and returned home. Earlier Sir Dudley Carleton, with eventually more rewarding results, had spotted the talent of Gerrit van Honthorst immediately after his return from Rome and introduced his name and painting to Arundel, thus laying the groundwork for the artist's visit to England in 1628. There, in addition to a number of portraits, he produced his enormous picture of Apollo and Diana, possibly to hang at the end of the newly built Banqueting House in Whitehall, the ceiling of which was to be decorated by Rubens. Following the taste of the time, Mercury, in the guise of the Duke of Buckingham, leads a procession of the liberal arts to pay homage to Apollo and Diana, who, personated by Charles i and Henrietta Maria, are seated above in the clouds. With its allusions to the peace-loving enlightenment and sophistication of the Caroline court, it offered the first large-scale public representation of what was being created so memorably in the English capital. A year later Honthorst was followed to London by Rubens, on a diplomatic mission which must also represent the most distinguished artistic event of the reign. During his nine months in England he painted portraits of Arundel, a portrait historie of the King and Queen in a composition of St George and the Dragon (H.M. The Queen), which, a contemporary reported, `he has sent home into Flanders to remain there as a monument of his abode and employment here'. During his stay he received the commission to decorate the ceiling of the Banqueting House, no doubt undertaking the necessary preparatory work on the programme, and, as a special present

192 Through Foreign Eyes

Gerrit van Honthorst,

Apollo and Diana. 1628. Canvas, 357 x 640 cm.

The Royal Collection Š, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ii, Hampton Court.

for Charles i, painted a highly political allegory of War and Peace, which in the words of Charles is surveyor, Abraham van der Doort, was `an Emblim wherein the dWerencs and ensuencees betweene peace and warrs is Shewed', a subject very relevant to the European peace the artist had been negotiating. (Mars, the god of war, is driven off by Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, who protects a woman suckling a child, probably Pax and the infant Plutus, the god of wealth.) In 1632 Van Dyck was lured back by Charles Ito England, where he was to spend most of the remaining nine years of his life. Traditionally it is said that the King's pleasure with the Rinaldo and Armida (Museum of Art, Baltimore; see The Low Countries 1993-94: 31 1), which he had commissioned two years earlier, is supposed to have been responsible for the invitation. If so it is ironic that Van Dyck was required to spend the rest of his career painting portraits of the royal family and the court. The Cupid and Psyche (H.M. The Queen), painted towards the end of his life, remains the only known surviving mythological picture from the years in England. Its purpose is unknown, but it represents the culmination of Van Dyck's love affair with Venetian sixteenth-century painting, above all with that by Titian. The wonderfully varied range of colours in a high key – above all the pinks and the blues – combined with the elegance and delicacy of the figures and their actions show the artist at the furthest point from the wholeheartedly Rubensian works with which he had begun his career. It is not difficult to imagine that this picture would have been warmly received by an English Court infatuated with Venetian painting. The only mystery is why he was never invited to repeat the exercise. There was another side to the taste of the King and his fellow collectors, a penchant for ingenious and meticulously executed works on a small scale. The Haarlem painter Hendrick Pot was called on to paint the King and

Peter Paul Rubens,

War and Peace. 1629. Canvas, 203.5 x 298 cm. National Gallery, London.


Queen in a style and size recalling an enlarged miniature. Charles had a particular liking for the ingenious perspectives and architectural scenes, with their romantic atmospheric effects of nocturnal interiors, by the Antwerp artist Herman van Steenwyk the Younger, who was active in England from 1617 until 1637; the more prosaic perspectives of the Dutch artist Gerrit Houckgeest were no less popular with the King. In landscape this taste was met by, amongst others, the works of Cornelis van Poelenburgh, who appears to have made several journeys from Utrecht to London in the late 1 63os, and who collaborated with the Antwerp painter Alexander Keirincx, who on a second visit in 1639 shared a house in Westminster with him. Apart from painting views of castles and towns for the King, Keirincx provided the landscape for figures probably added by Poelenburgh in the Wooded Landscape, painted for Charles, which was later sent to The Hague with other Dutch pictures by William Iii and never returned. England during the Civil War was no place for a foreign artist, although Peter Lely, who arrived in London from Haarlem just as it began, was able to survive remarkably well during the war and the subsequent Commonwealth. At the Restoration he was promptly appointed Principal Painter by Charles ii. Regarded as the natural successor to Van Dyck, like his predecessor he realised that portrait painting was the principal requirement and quickly abandoned the pastoral and mythological subjects with which he had begun his career, such as The Concert. This lyrical picture is probably to be understood as an allegory of Music, here personified by the singer, the flautist and the bass violinist (probably a self-portrait), in the service of Love and Beauty, exemplified by a half-naked woman seen from the back and

194 Through Foreign Eyes

Alexander Keirincx and Cornelis van Poelenburgh, A Wooded Landscape. c.1639 (?).Panel, 64 x 92 cm. Mauritshuis, The Hague (inv. no. 79).

Peter Lely, The Concert. Late 16405. Canvas, 122.9 x 234.E cm. The Courtauld Institute Galleries (Lee Collection), London.

the woman on the right who silences her dog. With the accession of Charles li in i 66o, the crown no longer played the dominant role in patronage that it had done under his father. Although he was assiduous in trying to reassemble his father's dispersed collection, Charles 11 proved himself a far less discerning and active patron of living artists. Moreover, although the art of the Netherlands remained the principal overall cultural influence, royal taste veered towards French and Italian art, with erotic mythologies appealing to the King and religious subjects meeting the devotional requirements of his Catholic wife, Catherine of Braganza. But artists from the Low Countries were to serve a purpose. Charles ii had a passion for the events of his own life, particularly his escape from the Roundheads during the Civil War and his journey to France in a Brighthelmstone (Brighton) coal-brig; after his restoration, the ship was converted into a yacht and renamed the Royal Escape, in which state it was painted by the younger Willem van de Velde presumably on commission from the King (H.M. The Queen). Charles' departure from Scheveningen at the time of the Restoration represented a more triumphant moment in the King's career and the subject of his embarkation on the beach became a popular subject with Dutch artists. Allied to this penchant for his own life-story went his interest in landscape to provide records of his possessions. The Dutch artist Hendrick Danckerts, was, for example, commissioned by the King to paint royal residences, such as Greenwich, Windsor Castle and Hampton Court, and naval ports, such as Plymouth, Portsmouth and Tangier. The latter subjects would particularly have appealed to the nautically minded King, as well as to his brother, the Duke of York, later to be James ii, and this aspect to their taste undoubtedly led to their patronage of the elder and the younger Willem van de Veldes, who probably arrived in England in or shortly after 1672, when Charles ii issued a declaration inviting people from the Low Countries to come and settle in England. With patronage no longer very largely centred on the Court, many foreign artists found employment with patrons who in these happier times were


building and embellishing their homes in and around London. In fact some artists from the Low Countries had no contact with the King and were entirely dependent on commissions from outside the Court. While Ralph Montagu was building the first Montagu House in London `in the French taste', the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale were active in enlarging and redecorating their house at Ham in the early 16705. They employed, in addition to some Dutch joiners, a team of Dutch artists and under the controlling hand of the Duchess they produced a very distinctive ensemble which still happily exists today. Much of the painted decoration consisted of overdoors and overmantles, which included landscapes by Dirck van der Bergen and Abraham Begeyn, a battle-piece by Jan Wyck, three seascapes by the younger Van de Velde, his first recorded commission in this country, and an alchemist's den by Thomas Wyck. This was only one part of a sumptuous ensemble of wall-hangings and furniture all designed in the most fashionable taste of the period, which led John Evelyn to describe the interior as furnished like a Great Prince's' and to claim that it was `inferiour to few of the best Villas in Italy itself'. Sir Thomas Willoughby, another active patron of artists from the Low Countries, commissioned topographical landscapes of his houses at Wollaton and Middleton Park from the Antwerp painter Jan Siberechts, who came to England in the 167os. By abandoning his natural bent for landscapes with peasants and animals, Siberechts built up a thriving and distinguished practice producing views of country seats. Both Danckerts and Jan Griffier the Elder, followed later by Leonard Knyff, were also busily producing country house `portraits' for a wide variety of owners around the country. Willoughby also employed Egbert van Heemskerk, another emigrant artist with a very different specialisation, to paint a series of six drolleries. The Haarlem artist went on to illustrate events of local history, such as the Oxford Election (Corporation of Oxford) and the Quaker Meeting, which offered a satirical comment on the Society founded in 1647; the latter proved a popular subject which was repeated in numerous painted versions as well as being engraved. One of the most admired qualities in painting during the reign of Charles ii was that of verisimilitude. Its representation, which was principally provided by artists from the Low Countries, found an eloquent admirer in Samuel Pepys, who on being taken to Simon Verelst's lodging in London was shown `a little flower-port of his doing, the finest thing that ever 1 think I saw in my life – the drops of Dew hanging on the leaves, so as I was forced again and again to put my finger to it to feel whether my eyes were deceived or no'. On another occasion he enthused about a picture in the manner of the `miscellanies' produced by the Leiden artist Evaert Collier, who spent a short time in London. It is, he said, `so well painted that in my whole life I never was so pleased or surprised with any picture ... even after that I knew it was not board, but only the picture of a board, I could not remove my fancy'. And his enjoyment of the ingenious is reflected in his repeated pleasure in the power of spatial trompe l'oeil; visiting the house of Thomas Povey in Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1663, he wrote: `above all things I do the most admire his piece of perspective especially, he opening the closet door and there 1 saw that there is nothing but a plain picture hung upon the wall.' The work described is very probably to be identified with the View down a

196 Through Foreign Eyes

Samuel van Hoogstraeten,

A View down a Corridor. 1662. Canvas, 264 x 136.5 cm. The National Trust John Hammond (Blathwayt Collection), Dyrham Park.

Corridor painted the year before by Samuel van Hoogstraeten, who was in London from 1662 to 1667, and which passed from Povey's possession to that of his nephew, William Blathwayt of Dyrham Park, where it has hung as a trompe 1'ceil ever since. If not a great work of art, the picture known as The Tichborne Dole (Mrs John Loudun, Tichborne Park), painted by the little-known Flemish artist Gillis van Tilborch in 1670, provides one of the richest documents of English social history. Standing before their Tudor house, Sir Henry Tichborne and his family, accompanied by their various retainers and watched by tenants and villagers, are about to distribute bread to the poor, following a family tradition supposedly going back to the thirteenth century. In this wide composition, recalling Dutch and Flemish paintings of the subject of the distribution of bread, the entire spectrum of a village society dependent on the grand house, including an engaging variety of dogs, is painstakingly recorded. James li, whose taste matched that of his brother and who had particularly patronised the Van de Veldes, had little time as monarch to attract new artists to England. William and Mary, as might be expected, turned to artists from the Low Countries, but perhaps deliberately reacting against the taste of their two predecessors chose to employ different artists. Jan Wyck, who had been in England since 1674 but who had never carried out any work for the Crown, was now given commissions. Godfried Schalcken, the master of candle-light scenes, which sometimes included portraiture, was encouraged by William to make several visits to England in the 169os. According to Arnold Houbraken, the flower painter Maria van Oosterwijk also worked for William and Mary. The Van de Veldes however, so popular with Charles II and James Ii, were ignored by the new monarchs; yet so much did they appeal to English taste that they readily continued to find patronage. Willem van de Velde the Younger lived on until I707, into the reign of Queen Anne; regarding his search for light and atmosphere there is a nice account of his `going a skoying' given to the English artist William Gilpin by an old Thames waterman who `had often carried him (i. e., Van de Velde) out in his boat, both up and down the river, to study the appearances of the sky. The old man used to say, they went out in all kinds of weather, fair, and foul'. It was a practice which was followed by so many English artists in subsequent centuries. CHRISTOPHER WHITE


BROWN, C., Van Dyck. Oxford, 1982. MILLAR, o., Sir Peter Lely r6r8-80. London, 1978. WATERHOUSE, E., Painting in Britain 1530 to 1790. New Haven / London, 1994• WHINNEY, M. and o. MILLAR, English Art 1625-1714. Oxford, 1957. WHITE, c., The Dutch Pictures in the Gallery of H.M. The Queen. Cambridge, 1982.


Through Foreign Eyes. Painters from the Low Countries in Seventeenth-Century England  

Although portraiture was the predominant activity of painting in seventeenth-century England, there were other categories of subject-matter...

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