Dyck, Sir Anthony van

(Antwerpen 1599 - 1641 London)

Sketch for the double Portrait of Mountjoy Blount, 1st Earl of Newport

Oil on panel
15 x 21 cm

€ 115.000,--
Sketch for the double Portrait of Mountjoy Blount, 1st Earl of Newport


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

Fig. 2, Sir Anthony van Dyck, Magistrates of Brussels Assembled around the Personification of Justice, Paris, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, oil on panel, 26.3 x 58.5 cm

The few preparatory studies in oil for painted portraits that have been preserved are like
the majority of the other sketches in a monochrome palette, mostly on panel and of tiny
dimensions.4 An early grisaille sketch exists for Van Dyck’s portrait of the collector and
merchant Lucas van Uffel, but its date and function are still open to debate and it is
much more detailed than for instance our sketch.5 Similar in handling and in the degree
of sketchiness to our work is the small painting Van Dyck made somewhere between
1628 and 1634 in brown for his large group portrait of the Magistrates of Brussels
Assembled around the Personification of Justice which sadly was destroyed in 1695
(fig. 2).6 Also highly comparable in this respect and just like our sketch from the
English period is another study in brown heightened with white of a military
commander on horseback.7 If the final painting was ever executed is unknown. In its
focus on general aspects such as composition and chiaroscuro our sketch is furthermore
strikingly akin to a grisaille of Charles I and his family that the Royal Collection
recently acquired, a preparatory work for Van Dyck’s well-known Greate Peece (fig.
3).8 Finally, Van Dyck’s grisaille sketch for what would have become his most
ambitious and most expensive enterprise had it been carried out, must be mentioned

Fig. 3, Sir Anthony van Dyck, Sketch of Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria with their two eldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Mary, London, The Royal Collection Trust, oil on panel, 19.7 x 23.5 cm

Fig. 4, Sir Anthony van Dyck, Procession of the Knights of the Garter, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, oil on panel, 29 x 132 cm

Van Dyck’s output of portraits was enormous; more than 260 have been preserved.
Many are live-size and full-length. This number would account for on average two
portraits a week, and many portraits have been lost. Van Dyck’s production clearly
peaked during his last English period (1632-1641). In view of this vast production, the
rarity of preparatory oil sketches begs the question of how the artist went about in
processing so many commissions. It seems a precondition that he worked according to a
highly rationalized procedure in which assistants played a role not to be neglected. Were oil sketches part of this and are we to believe that a large number of them have
vanished? Or was the use of preparatory oil sketches confined to specific

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.

Fig. 5, Sir Anthony van Dyck, Double-portrait of Mountjoy Blount, 1st Earl of Newport (c. 1597-1666) and George, Lord Goring (1608-57), Petworth House, Sussex, The Egremont Collection (The National Trust), oil on canvas, 128.3 x 151.1 cm

The sketch and ensuing portrait can be dated to 1639 on the basis of the martial
trappings that obviously refer to the sitters’ role in the First Bishops’ War in that year,
hostilities that were a foretaste of the English Civil War.21 Goring, the eldest son of
George Goring, 1st Earl of Norwich, who had been made a colonel in the Dutch army
through the efforts of his father-in-law, Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork and was
wounded at the Siege of Breda in 1637, returned to England early in 1639 and was
made governor of Portsmouth. The statesman, diplomat and historian Edward Hyde, 1st
Earl of Clarendon (1609-74) gave a rather derogatory description of his character,
writing that he ‘would, without hesitation, have broken any trust, or done any act of
treachery to have satisfied an ordinary passion or appetite’.

Fig. 6, Sir Anthony van Dyck, Double-portrait of Mountjoy Blount, 1st Earl of Newport (c. 1597-1666) and George, Lord Goring (1608-57), The Newport Restoration Foundation, Newport, Rhode Island, oil on canvas, 121.9 x 144.8 cm

Related to the double-portrait in Petworth is the one in The Newport Restoration
Foundation, Newport, Rhode Island, showing Newport frontally and Goring in profile
view (fig. 6).22 Around this same time both Newport and Goring had themselves
portrayed individually. Newport is shown at full length in front of his army tent with
soldiers in the background holding his baton of command (fig. 7).23 Goring’s other
portrait is a simple bust piece, showing the sitter in cuirass.24 All these portraits display
such clear allusions to the battlefield in Scotland that one suspects they were especially
commissioned to convey royalist propaganda and bring across the sitters’ loyalty to the

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
their portraits.

Fig. 7, Sir Anthony van Dyck, Mountjoy Blount, 1st Earl of Newport (c. 1597-1666), New Haven (CT), Yale Center for British Art, oil on canvas, 214 x 129 cm

The present oil sketch probably represents a first thoughts for the portrait in Petworth
House. It could have been used as a proposal to show the sitters. Apparently, it became
the subject of discussion between the artist and the sitters because there are several
significant changes in dress and pose between the sketch and finished painting. It is
conceivable that Van Dyck ultimately fell back on drawing the new composition on
coloured paper that he could hand over to his studio assistants for transferring onto the
canvas. The most poignant difference is that the poses of the sitters in the sketch are
much more dynamic. Furthermore, in the sketch Newport and Goring are dressed in full
armour. The staunch column – the standard symbol of Fortitudo (Latin: strength) - ,
alluding no doubt to the sitters’ valor, has been replaced in the final painting with a
curtain. The warlike character, in short, was reduced in favour of focus on the friendship
between the two sitters.

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,
III.169, III.178.
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
Collection: https://www.rct.uk/collection/search#/9/collection/408584/sketch-of-charles-i-and-queenhenrietta-
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.
18 Ibid.
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.

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