The Flemish Community’s Masterpieces Fund (Topstukkenfonds) has acquired a rare work by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) for the KMSKA. Study of a Bearded Old Man in Profile, Facing Left. Flemish Minister of Culture Sven Gatz unveiled the newly acquired oil painting last week.
Information from the museum’s press release, 10 January 2017
This study of a head has exceptional artistic value because it is a unique witness to the young artist’s outstanding maturity. Van Dyck was barely twenty years old when he painted this study in the studio of his master, Peter Paul Rubens. Other artists only reached the end of their apprenticeships at the age of nineteen. With this ‘tronie’, Van Dyck reveals himself to have been a confident artistic personality with keen powers of observation. This is reflected in the highlights that accentuate the anatomy of the master, a Bearded Old because it master, Peter Paul age of quick brushwork skull, cheekbones, nose and ear. Like no other, he knows how to depict the tanned skin of the old man using perfectly blended gradations of brown, grey, ochre and pink. This tronie is a masterpiece in miniature.
Van Dyck used this head study for the bottom right figure in the famous Crowning with Thorns in the Prado (Madrid) and the Crowning with Thorns from the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum (Berlin), the latter of which was destroyed during the Second World War. Both paintings date from around 1618 to 1620, which means that the head study pre-dates these works.
The painting of head studies such as this was common practice in the workshops of the Flemish history painters during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Because it can teach us a great deal about the genesis of paintings, the tronie is an important object of study.
Public collections in Flanders possess very few works that illustrate Van Dyck’s creative process. This head study is consequently an important asset and a pivotal work within the KMSKA collection. The artwork is a perfect complement to the collection of 17thcentury oil studies because the subject is a head, a type that was hitherto not represented within the collection. It will play an important role in the reinstallation of the museum’s collection displays.
Study of a Bearded Old Man in Profile, Facing Left was previously part of a French private collection and was purchased in London from the art dealer Agnew’s for the sum of 234,000 euros, VAT included. The renowned art historians Prof. Dr. Christopher Brown (Director, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) and Prof. Dr. Katlijne Van der Stighelen (KULeuven) confirm the attribution to Van Dyck on the grounds of the work’s superlative quality and style.
Because the KMSKA is closed for renovation works, the painting is currently on display at the Rockoxhuis in Antwerp, which is providing a temporary home for many Old Masters from the museum collection.