The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

By Godfrey Davies | Go to book overview

XIV
THE ARTS

IN the history of English art, the period 1603-60 is noteworthy for the portrait painters and remarkable for its miniaturists, but is singularly devoid of landscape and decorative artists of considerable merit. It is capable of a threefold division: 1603 to 1632, when Van Dyck settled in England; the decade of Van Dyck; and the twenty years after his death in 1641. During the whole time, the influence and often the presence of foreign artists are very persistent (though in the first quarter of the century the influence of Hilliard the miniaturist was predominant even in oil-painting), while the English painters were frequently the sons or grandsons of immigrants, usually from the Low Countries. During the first of the three divisions enumerated above, the foremost artists were Marc Gheeraerts, Paul van Somer (both in the Flemish tradition), and Daniel Mytens (a Dutch painter), all of whom were primarily portrait- painters and the last appointed picture-drawer for life to the king. The life of English-born Cornelius Johnson (or Janssen) outranges the period at both ends, but he was most active in England during the twenties and thirties. At first we may suspect that he applied himself to painting in miniature, but later he turned his hand to portraits, of which the best are, perhaps, Sir Ralph Verney ( 1634) and Henry Ireton (c. 1640). In each, much of the inner man seems revealed, and it is clear that the painter is trying to interpret his subjects, not merely to reproduce externals. Both these portraits owe much to Anthony Van Dyck. Although a large part of the life of that great artist lies outside an account of English art, yet the influence of this decade in England was so lasting that it was not displaced for the best part of a century. Some of the qualities that made Van Dyck's work so admired were his fluent draughtsmanship, his grace and ease of pose, the arrangement, his striking design, rich colour, and the silvery tone of many of the portraits. Among those who worked in his studio was William Dobson, of whom it has been said that 'in his most characteristic work he is the most typical exponent of the English temper in seventeenth-century painting'.1

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1
C. H. Collins Baker and W. G. Constable, English Painting of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries ( 1930), p. 46.

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