Although they make up only a fraction of his considerable and varied artistic output, van Dyck’s depictions of children are among the most memorable and enchanting works that the artist ever produced. This delightful portrait of Prince Willem II of Orange exemplifies the genre. It depicts the young Prince at about 5½ years wearing a long gown of golden orange silk (the color of his princely house) with slashed sleeves, decorated with lace collar and cuffs. He wears a plumed cap of black velvet and stands in a relaxed and elegant pose, gazing to his right as does his dog, as if someone is drawing their attention. Van Dyck deftly indicates the young Prince’s lineage with a symbolic orange tree at the left, while behind hangs a rich tapestry arras, rendered in flickering brushstrokes, and embroidered with the arms and lion of the House of Nassau.
In the winter of 1631/32, van Dyck set north from Antwerp to the court of The Hague, having been summoned by Frederick Hendrick, Prince of Orange, an invitation that only served to boost his already considerable reputation. He arrived before 28th January 1632, when no less a personage than Constantijn Huygens noted that he had just that day been sitting to the painter.1 In addition to the Dutch prince’s patronage, van Dyck no doubt hoped to broaden his prospects, not only by leaving the confines and limitations of his native city, but also with an eye to a move across the Channel to the English court. King Charles I’s agent Balthasar Gerbier had been assiduously wooing the painter for some time, attempting to secure his services, and while a final decision had not been made, one was imminent. In addition, Prince Frederick Hendrik and his wife Amalia van Solms hosted Elizabeth Stuart, the deposed Queen of Bohemia, who was Charles I’s sister. Thus, van Dyck’s arrival appears to be a canny decision, not only for the commissions it afforded, but as a way to ingratiate himself further with the Stuart dynasty. Van Dyck would, in fact, arrive in England just a short time afterwards, in April 1632 where, save for occasional sojourns, he would remain for the rest of his life in the service of the King.
While in The Hague, van Dyck painted portraits of the ruling family, Frederick Hendrik, Prince of Orange (fig. 2, Baltimore Museum of Art, inv. 1938.217) and Amalia van Solms (fig. 3, Tokyo Fuji Museum, Tokyo, Japan), as well as their eldest son and heir, Willem II ( fig. 1, Schloss Mosigkau, near Dessau, Germany).2 Perhaps unfettered by the courtly expectations required of an image for a sitting monarch, the painting of Willem II is both formal and informal at the same time, and shows van Dyck’s extraordinary abilities to their most potent effect. Van Dyck captures perfectly the innocence of a young boy, but sacrifices nothing of his nobility in doing do. Drawing on the influence of Titian, notably his portrait of Clarice Strozzi (fig. 4, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), van Dyck developed a pictorial language for the depiction of young nobles which was to influence artists such as Gainsborough, Reynolds and Sargent in the centuries to come.
In addition to the aforementioned set ordered by Prince Frederik, van Dyck was commissioned by King Charles I, whose eldest daughter Mary was to marry Willem nine years later, to complete a further set:
Sir Anthony vandike hath by o’ Command made and presented us wth divers pictures…of the Prince of Orange…another of the princesse of Orange wth another of their sonne at half length at Twenty pounds appeece.
Payment for these were authorized in a Royal Warrant dated 8th August 1632. The reference to ‘half length’ portraits was evidently shorthand for the whole group, two of which were true half lengths – an inference confirmed by the reference at the sale of King Charles I’s collection in 1652 (No. 278), where it was described as ‘A Dutch Prince at length wth a dog’.
A full length studio or later copy of the composition is preserved at Petworth, where the dog appears to adhere to the type in the present example, rather than the Mosigkau picture. The breed of the dog, which appears to be a whippet cross, is more robust and muscular in the present painting, and also has a more pronounced snout, thus suggesting that it was the prototype brought to England and furnished the template for the Petworth copy.3 No other autograph version of this composition is recorded.
The present Portrait of Willem II of Orange is thus almost certainly the recorded version painted for King Charles I. The relationship between the Mosigkau version and the present canvas is particularly fascinating and informative. The condition of the Dessau picture has been somewhat compromised in the past, but it is clear that the painting does have similar handling of paint to the present work. Perhaps the most striking difference between the two versions is in the quality and characterization of the dog, which is finer and anatomically more sophisticated in the present painting. Pentiments also exist in the present composition. Some, such as that along the contour of the Prince’s collar in front of the tapestry, as well as subtle shifts in the hands, and around the dog’s head and legs are visible to the naked eye, while infra-red technology further reveals the freedom and spontaneity with which it was painted. While it is perhaps pointless to discuss primacy in the case of two pictures which would have been produced either simultaneously or nearly so, these details would suggest that the present composition may indeed be the first version. In light of the importance of King Charles I to van Dyck from 1632 onwards, and his reputation as a connoisseur, this would not be surprising.
Note on the Provenance:
The portraits of the Orange family painted for Charles I remained in the Royal Collection until after the execution of Charles when the collection was sold by the Commonwealth in one of the most famous art dispersals in history. On 1st March, 1652, as lot 278, ‘A Dutch Prince at length, with a dog,’ presumably the present painting, was sold to Edward Bass and John Hunt, both creditors of the late king.
Edward Bass was a royal official under Charles I who, together with John Hunt was one of a handful of insiders who purchased a large quantity of the late King’s goods, and were amongst the chief beneficiaries of the sale. Bass headed no fewer than three of the fourteen ‘dividends’ (syndicates created by the King’s creditors, formed for the purpose of taking goods in lieu of payment), while Hunt (a former linen draper to Queen Henrietta Maria) was one of the sale’s treasurers. In addition to van Dyck’s portrait of Prince Willem II, Edward Bass also owned the jewel of the Royal Collection - Raphael’s Holy Family, ‘La Perla,’ now at the Museo del Prado. Bass was one of the ‘undoubted winners in the sale’ who formed part of the group of ‘cosmopolitan artists, dealers and merchants’ who were ‘the real specialists in money and art, and employed by all sides – crown, republic, dividends and foreign embassies’ (see J. Brotton, The Sale of the Late King’s Goods, 2006, pp. 258, 266, 283, 308-9).
As with so many paintings from the Royal Collection, the Portrait of Willem II as well as those of his parents were subsequently dispersed, and remained untraced for many years.4 A label on the reverse of the present painting is inscribed with the name of Michael Humble, possibly Michael Humble of Gwersyllt Park, Denbighshire Wales. The reverse of the stretcher is also inscribed with the name B.J. Palmer. Bartlett Joshua Palmer (1882–1961), of Davenport, Iowa, was one of the founders of modern chiropractic practice. He amassed a large collection of art and Asian antiquities, which was on view at his clinic at Davenport.
We are grateful to Dr Malcolm Rogers, Professor Christopher Brown and Dr Susan Barnes for each independently confirming the attribution of the present painting to Sir Anthony van Dyck based on their first hand inspection.
1. It must have been a stormy day, as Huygens noted ‘Pingor a Van Dyckio, cum arbor in aedes lapsus esset [I am being painted by van Dyck when a tree fell against the house]’. That portrait, sadly, is lost.
2. Schloss Mosigkau was built for Anna Wilhelmina von Anhalt-Dessau who at her death in 1780 bequeathed the building and its contents to form a monastery for well born aristocratic girls, a foundation which remained until 1945, becoming a museum in 1951.
3. Other copies of varying quality and age are at Welbeck Abbey and Warwick Castle, as well as museums in Prague and Riga, and at the Hallwylska Museet, Stockholm, none of which are of autograph quality.
4. For the portraits of Frederick Hendrik and Amalia van Solms painted by van Dyck for Charles I, see Barnes et al (ibid), p.338-9, under cat III. 112 & 113, where the versions preserved in the Prado, Madrid, are each noted as “probably the version bought by Charles I in 1632”. While many paintings in the Royal Collection bore an identifying brand on the back of the canvas, Sir Oliver Millar’s discussion of this practice in his introduction to ‘Abraham Van der Doort's catalogue of the collections of Charles I’ (Walpole Society, XLIII, 1960) makes it clear that many were not so marked.
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