Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) 

Charles Jervas (1675–1739)

Portrait of Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), Charles Jervas
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
49 x 40 inches, 14.5 x 101.6 cm
American Private Collection
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Charles Jervas was one of the leading portrait painters of the early 18th Century, and a prolific student of the Old Masters. He produced numerous copies and compositions of works by the great names of Renaissance painting, from Raphael to Titian. These were produced not only for his own tuition but for patrons who wanted to hang a ‘Titian’ in their home, but who could never dream of going to Europe to see one themselves, yet alone own one. The present painting is an obvious homage to the artist Jervas admired above all others, and who even a century after his arrival in England still dominated the art of portrait painting; Sir Anthony Van Dyck. Jervas’ recorded copies after Van Dyck include the full-length Henrietta Maria at Petworth, and he often portrayed his sitters in Van Dyck costumes or poses, as in fact did contemporary rivals such as John Vanderbank. The head in the present painting is based loosely on Van Dyck’s apparently lost self portrait of about 1634, while the rest of the pose is made up by Jervas. A similar work by Jervas is at Wilton.

Jervas was born in King’s County, Ireland, in 1675, but is recorded by Vertue as being Godfrey Kneller’s assistant in London by the 1690s. At this time Kneller’s studio was the closest thing England had to an academy of art. Jervas’ early and obvious proficiency soon earned him enough money to embark on the then essential ‘grand tour’, taking in Paris and Rome. It is in Rome that we first hear of the confident bombast that gained him both admiration and criticism on his return to London in 1708; ‘Poor little Tit!’, Jervas remarked having completed a fine copy of a Titian, ‘How he would stare!’ And yet, Jervas’ self-confidence must have been deserved, for Tatler remarked in 1709 that he was ‘the last great painter Italy has sent us’. He easily gained the patronage of many of the ruling and intellectual elite, most notably Sir Robert Walpole and Alexander Pope, whom he taught to paint. While Jervas admitted his lack of confidence in drawing he was particularly admired for his fresh and bold use of colour, not least in drapery and costume, where he consciously copied Van Dyck’s techniques. In 1723 he was appointed to the post of King’s Painter by George I – his status as Kneller’s successor seemingly assured – a position he retained under George II. At the studio sale of 1740, held after his death, many of the lots were copies after Rubens and Van Dyck. Three lots described as portraits of Van Dyck by Jervas may relate to the present picture, and have similar dimensions; 19, 227 and 369.
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