Lot 43
  • 43

Sir Anthony van Dyck

250,000 - 350,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Anthony van Dyck
  • Head study of a bearded man
  • oil on paper laid down on panel


European Private Collection


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work looks well and can easily be hung in its current condition. Originally painted on a textured piece of paper it was subsequently mounted onto an old oak panel. The paint layer is cleaned, varnished and retouched. Under ultraviolet light, a vertical line of retouches in the lower left, beginning on the bottom edge, is visible, as are a few other small retouches. Although there may be a few spots in the hair which are not visible under ultraviolet light, the face certainly seems to be well-preserved.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This previously unrecorded head study was painted by Van Dyck between about 1618-20, when he was working for Rubens. As such it is a rare example of a work by Van Dyck made in Rubens’ studio, of which he was a leading member between 1617 and 1620. Its discovery shows the extent to which Rubens was happy to delegate the creation of significant elements of his pictures to his talented assistant.

The sitter here can be seen in a number of large-scale religious and historical pictures thought to have been painted as collaborations by Rubens and Van Dyck, many of which use the same models repeatedly. Probably the earliest use of the present head is in the St Dominic and St Francis of Assisi Protecting the World from the Wrath of Christ (Lyons, Musée des Beaux-Arts), where the mitred saint on the left of the composition seems to be worked up from the present study, closely following both its structure and lighting. Hans Vlieghe thought that the figure in the Lyons picture was probably intended to represent St Ambrose,1 and indeed the best-known use of the grey-bearded man seen in this study is as the figure of St Ambrose in St Ambrose and Theodosius (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), in which the same model is seen, inverted, on the right, barring the Emperor’s access to the church. The St Ambrose in the Vienna picture also follows the same basic construction and lighting seen in the present study, but has been turned slightly more towards the viewer. Interestingly, x-rays reveal that Rubens’ own study for the Vienna St Ambrose (National Gallery of Scotland) was originally painted with a purer profile, as seen in the present lot, but was then altered in the outline of the forehead. 

Despite the fact that relatively few head studies from this period by either artist survive, it seems to have been common for both Rubens and Van Dyck to effectively ‘recycle’ head studies in their larger compositions. The use of studies evidently saved time when composing pictures with multiple figures, and as Elizabeth McGrath notes, a cluster of repeated heads appears in a number of works painted in Rubens’ workshop between about 1618-20, ‘including some in which Van Dyck evidently had a hand’.2 The central figure of St Dominic in the Lyons picture, for example, appears (inverted) in the c.1618-19 Virgin and Child with Penitent Sinners (Kassel, Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister) recently exhibited in the Prado’s Young Van Dyck exhibition as a joint work by Rubens and Van Dyck.3 And, somewhat strangely, in the Vienna St Ambrose and Theodosius, which has long been accepted as a work painted jointly by Van Dyck and Rubens,4 the same model (a younger bearded man often used by Rubens) even appears twice, in two roles, at the very centre of the composition. When Van Dyck painted his own, smaller version of the subject (National Gallery, London) he rectified this somewhat incongruous grouping, and introduced another model.  

The study is painted in oil on paper (Van Dyck’s preferred medium for studies, whereas Rubens usually painted directly onto panel), which at a later date has been laid onto panel. Before the paper was laid onto panel it was evidently at some point laid onto canvas, which has left a slight imprint in the surface. Recent conservation has removed several layers of early over-paint, which doubtless had been added (in areas such as the shoulder and the background) to make the picture appear more ‘finished’.

We are grateful to Susan J. Barnes for endorsing the attributiion on the basis of first hand inspection.

1. H. Vlieghe, Corpus Rubnenianum Ludwig Burchard, Part VIII, Saints, London 1972, vol.I, p. 134, no. 88.

2. E. McGrath (A. Balis ed.) Corpus Rubnenianum Ludwig Burchard, Part XIII (I), Rubens Subjects From History, London 1997, vol. II, p. 303.

3. A. Vergara and F. Lammertse (eds.), The Young Van Dyck, exhibition catalogue, Madrid 2012, p. 237, no. 59.

4. For a fuller discussion of the attribution see S. Barnes, N. de Poorter, O. Millar, H. Vey, Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, Yale & London 2004, p. 86,  no. I.86, and E. McGrath (A. Balis ed.) Corpus Rubnenianum Ludwig Burchard, Rubens Subjects From History, London 1997, vol. II, p. 297, no. 55.