Sir Anthony van Dyck
Antwerp 1599 – 1641 Blackfriars
Grisaille Sketch for His Double Portrait of Mountjoy Blount, 1st Earl of Newport
and George, Lord Goring
Oil on panel (oak), 14.7 x 20.8 cm
An unidentified red wax seal on the
…; private collection, Norfolk;
1 anonymous sale, London (Sotheby’s), 5 July 2012, no.
205, unsold; with Clase Fine Art, London, by 2016;2 anonymous sale, London
(Sotheby’s), 18 May 2020, no. 87
S. Alsteens, ‘A Portraitist’s Progress’, in S. Alsteens and A. Eaker (eds.), Van Dyck: the
anatomy of portraiture, exh. cat. New York (The Frick Collection) 2016, pp. 29, 37,
J. Vander Auwera and J. Davies (eds.), The Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings
Oil sketches have a particular charm. They are marked by an irresistible spontaneity and offer a peak into the artist’s mind. Compared to drawn sketches they usually show a more complex, advanced stage of the materialization of the thinking process in the runup to the final artwork. They also impart valuable insights about the artist’s studio practice.
A sizable group of oil sketches exists by Van Dyck.
3 They can be roughly divided
according to their function into preparatory studies and copies that served as modelli for
engravers or incidentally as a starting point for tapestry designs. A large group were
made in preparation of largescale paintings of Biblical themes and subjects from
classical mythology, literature or history and may also have served as presentation
pieces for patrons. For his enormous project of engraved portraits called Iconographie
he drew and painted modelli in oils for his engravers. A third group constitutes copies
after painted compositions that were meant as models for printmakers. These include
both historical subjects and portraits. They defy the term sketch in their relative
To answer this question it is paramount to review other aids of preparation the artist
employed in his practice as portrait painter. Alsteens assumes that Van Dyck at the
beginning of his career took recourse to detailed drawings in black and red chalk in
which he focused on pose and dress, even though only one has been preserved.10 In
1623, when working in Genoa Van Dyck painted a detailed study on canvas of Elena
Grimaldi Cattaneo’s face from life in preparation for his full-length portrait of her.11
The attribution of other oil sketches from Van Dyck’s Italian period is contested,
making it hard to tell if sketches in oils had become a standard step in the master’s
preparation of grand-scale portraits. From this same period, however, dates a large
drawing in brush and brown ink with a worked-out composition of a cardinal’s portrait,
possibly in preparation for the well-known portrait of Bentivoglio.12 Quite different in
its lack of the painterly use of mid-tones with the brush is a quickly executed pen
drawing, made in preparation for a not preserved full-length portrait of a nun.13 In order
to quickly record an initial idea for a portrait with concern for composition and dress
Van Dyck often used pen and ink, for instance in another rare example to be found in
Van Dyck’s Italian sketchbook, which contains the preparatory sketches for the pair of
portraits of Robert Shirley and his wife Theresa.14 From around 1634 two individual
head studies in oil survive that Van Dyck would have used for his already-mentioned
group portrait of the magistrates of Brussels.15 The above shows a wide range of
techniques and materials that Van Dyck used in preparation for finished portraits but
little to go on as to what was customary in his workshop.
Evidence for an efficient working procedure which includes the use of painted sketches
of the face comes from a valuable eyewitness account. The French artist and art critic
Roger de Piles (1635-1709) reiterates what he heard from the famous banker and
collector Everhard Jabach (1618-95) who had sat for Van Dyck for several portraits
during the 1630s:
After having lightly dead-colour’d the face [ébauché un portrait in the French original,
referring to the largely monochrome head study in oil], he put the sitter into some
attitude he had before contrived; and on the grey paper, with white and black crayons,
he designed, in a quarter of an hour, his shape and drapery, which he disposed in a
grand manner, and an exquisite taste. After this he gave the drawing to the skilful
people he had about him, to paint after the sitter’s own cloaths, which, at Vandyke’s
request, were sent to him for that purpose. When his disciples had done what they could
to these draperies, he lightly went over them again; and so, in a little time, by this great
knowledge, displayed the art and truth which we at this day admire in them
Ample proof confirms that Van Dyck preferred to paint the sitter’s face work directly in
oils either sketching the face first on a separate small canvas or panel or working
directly on the primed canvas of the actual painting. Furthermore, by 1628 Van Dyck indeed seems to have adopted the habit of making preparatory drawings on tinted paper
for painted portraits. For the 1630s, which were largely spent in London, more drawings
related to painted portraits are known than for any other decade. The miniaturist Edward
Norgate (1581-1650), who knew Van Dyck well, discerningly noted the difference
between the early drawings of the 1620s, which he called ‘neat exact and curious’ and
later ones: ‘juditious, never exact’.17 Another miniature painter who apparently sat for a
nowadays unknown portrait, Richard Gibson (1615-90), described these drawings more
precisely: ‘Vandyke woud take a little piece of blue paper upon a board before him, &
look upon Life & draw his figures & postures all in Suden lines, as angles black Chalk
& heighten with white chalk’.18 What is important to note is that Van Dyck seems to
have executed these rapid sketches of poses from life with the sitter in front of him, so
not with a workshop assistant assuming the desired body pose. Moreover, these
drawings on coloured paper fulfilled the same purpose as our oil sketch and the sketch
for the portrait of Charles I and his family, namely to settle composition, the fall of
drapery and chiaroscuro. Alsteens suggests that Van Dyck in fact ‘regularly prepared
his compositions of portraits in this way’.19 If that is true, more are bound to surface.
Finally, it is important to note that none of Van Dyck’s three painted grisaille sketches –
our work, the Brussels magistrates and the Royal Family – concern portraits of
individuals, except for the sketch of a commander on horseback mentioned a little
earlier. It is plausible Van Dyck limited the use of this type of oil sketch for more
complex compositions and important clients.
The present sketch is a preparatory work for Van Dyck’s double portrait of Mountjoy
Blount, 1st Earl of Newport (c. 1597-1666) and George, Lord Goring (1608-57) in the
Egremont Collection in Petworth House (fig. 5).20 Newport and Goring were friends
and connected by marriage, Newport's wife’s nephew being married to Goring's sister.
They were prominent courtiers who fought for King Charles I during the Bishops’
Wars, the first as General of Artillery in the North and the second as Lieutenant-General
of Cavalry. The natural son of Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire, and his lover and
future wife Penelope Devereux, Newport inherited a large estate upon his father’s death,
rose to become a royal favourite at James I’s court and was created Earl of Newport in
the Isle of Wight in July 1627. He accrued a fortune through his appointment as Master
of Ordnance on 31 August 1634 and displayed a shrewd business sense on several other
occasions. Opportunism likewise fueled his political ambitions and made him vacillate
between royalist and anti-royalist sympathies time and again.
It is noteworthy that Van Dyck’s first biographer Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1613-96)
mentions a double portrait of Newport and Goring: ‘Dipinse il Generale Gorino in atto
di parlementare, e’l Conte di Nenport [he painted General Goring in the act of
negotiating, and the Earl of Newport’. This probably refers to the painting in Petworth
House. On the same page Bellori also describes Van Dyck’s single portrait of Newport
in New Haven: ‘Conte di Nenport Gran Maestro dell’ artigliere, che dà ordine àgli
Ufficiali, fintovi indietro due figure armate [Earl of Newport Grand Master of the
Artillery, who provides Ordnance for the officers, concealed there behind two armed
figures]’.25 It is no doubt symbolic of the importance of Newport’s and Goring’s
patronage of Van Dyck that Bellori specifically mentions them as clients and describes
Van Dyck had begun to paint three-quarter double-portraits of adult men during his
Italian period. His earliest, the portrait of the brothers Lucas and Cornelis de Wael, was
probably based on Raphael’s well-known Self-Portrait with Friend (Paris, Louvre) but
nonetheless strikingly innovative in its informality.26 It was only in the 1630s that Van
Dyck began to fully explore the formula of the double friendship portrait of two men. A
highpoint in the genre is Van Dyck’s Self-Portrait with Endymion Porter of 1633.
The motif of the page who is tying Goring’s sash was plausibly inspired by some
example of sixteenth-century Venetian portraiture and Van Dyck’s use of it would lead
to another new life in works by Robert Walker (1595/1610-1658), such as his portrait of
Oliver Cromwell that exists in various versions and other military portraits by his
hand.28 It was Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), Van Dyck’s successor as the dominant portrait
painter at the Stuart court, who adopted Newport’s pose for several portraits.29 These
borrowings sufficiently demonstrate the great success of Van Dyck’s composition.
Our sketch remains a fascinating document of a genius at work. In a letter Malcom
Rogers calls it: ‘a painting of great freshness and delicacy, painted with a well nigh
breathless quality that speaks to the agility of Van Dyck’s hand and mind’.
1 According to the entry in the catalogue for the sale, London (Sotheby’s), 18 May 2020, no. 87.
2 Alsteens 2016, p. 37, note 121.
3 Not including the more detailed studies in oil in colour and those made for the Iconographie, around
fifteen such works are preserved, see S.J. Barnes et al., Van Dyck: a complete catalogue of the paintings,
New Haven 2004, nos. II.69, III.16, III.21, III.23, III.27, III.36, III.40, III.42, III.48, III.53, III.59, III.63,
4 An exception is Van Dyck’s sketch on canvas in which he recorded the likenesses of Princess Elizabeth
and Princess Anne from life: Barnes et al. 2004, no. IV.63.
5 Barnes et al. 2004, pp. 208-09, no. II.69.
6 Barnes et al. 2004, p. 374, no. III.169.
7 Barnes et al. 2004, pp. 380-01, no. III.178.
8 Unpublished except for the mention in Alsteens 2016, p. 37, note 121 and the website of the Royal
9 Barnes et al. 2004, p. 476, no. IV.59.
10 Alsteens 2016, p. 7. Study of a Standing Man, Washington, National Gallery of Art. See: New York
2016, pp. 67-69, no. 6.
11 Washington, Smithsonian American Art Museum, oil on canvas, 43 x 31 cm. Barnes et al. 2004, no.
12 Paris, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris, Petit Palais, brush and brown ink over black chalk and
graphite, 396 x 263 mm. See: New York 2016, pp. 88-89, no. 14.
13 Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, pen and brown ink, 157 x 108 mm. See: New York 2016, pp. 97-99, no.
14 For which see K. Hearn (ed.), Van Dyck and Britain, exh. cat. London (Tate) 2009, pp. 52-55, where
the sketches are erroneously dated later than the portraits in the captions of the drawings.
15 Both Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, both canvas, 52 x 46 cm. Barnes et al. 2004, pp. 388-89, nos.
16 Quote taken from Alsteens 2016, p. 18.
17 Quote taken from Alsteens 2016, p. 27.
19 Alsteens 2016, p. 29.
20 Barnes et al. 2004, p. 562, no. IV.171. See for a more recent discussion of the double-portrait: London
2009, p. 124, no. 58.
21 The dendrochronological analysis of our panel indicates it was ready for use by 1627. Report by Peter
Klein of Hamburg University, dated 16 June 2020.
22 Barnes et al. 2004, p. 563, no. 172.
23 Barnes et al. 2004, p. 561, no. IV.169.
24 Barnes et al. 2004, p. 514, no. IV.107. This picture was sold 8 December 2010 in London with
Sotheby’s (no. 17).
25 G.P. Bellori, Le vite de' pittori scultori et architetti moderni, Rome 1672, p. 260. The translations taken
from Barnes et al. 2004, pp. 561-62.
26 Barnes et al. 2004, pp. 210-11, no. II.71.
27 Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado. Barnes et al. 2004, no. IV.6.
28 An example offering a parallel with a page fastening armour is the Portrait of Gaston de Foix by an
artist from Giorgione’s circle in Castle Howard. For Walker’s portraits, see: London 2009, p. 185.
29 As noted in Barnes et al. 2004, p. 562.
30 Letter of 17 November 2020 in our possession.