On 10 January, Sven Gatz unveiled a recently purchased oil painting by the Flemish Baroque master Anthony van Dyck. It is a work with a unique artistic value. It forms an especially nice addition to the collection of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (KMSKA).
Recently, the ‘Topstukkenfonds' of the Flemish Community bought for the KMSKA a rare Studie van een oude man met baard in profiel naar links (Study of an old man with a beard with left-facing profile) painted by Anthony van Dyck (1599 - 1641). This head study has a special artistic value because it is a unique testament to the exceptional maturity of the young artist. Van Dyck was barely twenty years old when he painted this study in the studio of his teaching master, Peter Paul Rubens. Other artists are usually just completing their training process at the age of nineteen. Van Dyck exhibits himself as a self-confident artistic personality with keen powers of observation with this face study. This is expressed in the quick strokes and perfectly placed points of light that define the anatomy of the skull, the cheekbones, the nostrils and the ear. Like none other, he knows how to render the tanned skin of the old man with nuanced mixed tones of brown, grey, ochre and pink. This face is a masterwork on a small scale.
Van Dyck used the head study for the figure on the lower right of the famous Christ Crowned with Thorns in the Prado in Madrid as well as on a Christ Crowned with Thorns in the Berlin Kaiser Wilhelm Museum that was destroyed in WWII. Both paintings date from around 1618 - 1620. The head study thus dates from before this time.
The painting of such head studies was a common practice in the studios of Flemish history painters from the Renaissance and the Baroque. The ‘tronie' is an important object of study because it can teach us more about the creative process of paintings.
Public collections in Flanders house exceptionally few examples that illustrate the creative process of Van Dyck. The head study of Van Dyck is also a capital acquisition and a key piece for the collection of the KMSKA. The work of art perfectly supplements the collection of 17th-century oil painting studies because it is a head study, a type that up until now was not represented in the collection. It shall play an important role in the refurbishing of the museum's collection presentation.
Study of an old man with a beard with left-facing profile comes from a French private estate and was purchased in the London art dealership Agnew's for the price of 234.000 euro, taxes inclusive. The well-respected art historians Prof. Dr. Christopher Brown (Director of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) and Prof. Dr. Katlijne Van der Stighelen (KU Leuven) confirm the attribution to Van Dyck on the basis of the unmistakeable quality and style.
Sven Gatz, Minister of Culture: ‘With Study of an old man with a beard with left-facing profile by Anthony Van Dyck we are able to acquire an important early work of a globally appreciated Flemish artist for the KMSKA. In addition to the special artistic importance, the oil sketch is also an interesting object for study: such head studies illustrate how Renaissance and Baroque masters set out to work. Until now, studies such as these were under-represented in public collections in Flanders. The acquisition of this work consequently fits in well with our policy choice to buy such key works.'
Manfred Sellink, General Director-Chief Curator of the KMSKA: ‘We are very grateful that the ‘Topstukkenfonds' made the acquisition of this head study possible. The swiftness that is needed to react to auctions and the uncertainty of the ultimate bidding price makes the purchases of such important works especially difficult for museums. The head study shall play an important role in the refurbishing of the new museum, where it will be shown to the public in the halls that are related to invention, learning process, working process and artistic creativity.'
Because the KMSKA is closed due to the renovation works, the painting is currently exhibited in the Rockoxhuis in Antwerp, where other Old Masters from the museum collection have found temporary residency.