His pieces so with live objects strive,
That both or pictures seem, or both alive.
Nature herself, amaz’d, does doubting stand,
Which is her own and which the painter’s hand,
And does attempt the like with less success,
When her own work in twins she would express.
His all-resembling pencil did outpass
The magic imagery of looking-glass.
Nor was his life less perfect than his art.
Nor was his hand less erring than his heart.
There was no false or fading color there,
The figures sweet and well-proportioned were.
— Cowley’s “Elegy on Sir Anthony Van Dyck”
The most common name in Holland is Van Dyck. Its simple inference is that the man lives on the dyke, or near it. In the good old days when villagers never wandered far from home, the appellation was sufficient, and even now, at this late day, it is not especially inconsistent.
In Holland you are quite safe in addressing any man you meet as Van Dyck.
The ancient Brotherhood of Saint Luke, of Antwerp, was always an exclusive affair, but during the years between Fifteen Hundred Ninety-seven and Sixteen Hundred Twenty-three there were twenty-seven artists by the name of Van Dyck upon its membership register. Out of these two dozen and three names, but one interests us.
Anthony Van Dyck was the son of a rich merchant. He was born in the year Fifteen Hundred Ninety-nine–just twenty-two years after the birth of Rubens. Before Anthony was ten years old the name and fame of Rubens illumined all Antwerp, and made it a place of pilgrimage for the faithful lovers of art of Northern Europe.
The success of Rubens fired the ambition of young Van Dyck. His parents fostered his desires, and after he had served an apprenticeship with the artist Van Balen, a place was secured for him in the Rubens studio. For a full year the ambitious Rubens took small notice of the Van Dyck lad, and possibly would not have selected him then as a favorite pupil but for an accident.
Rubens reduced his work to a system. While in his studio he was the incarnation of fire and energy. But at four o’clock each day he dismissed his pupils, locked the doors, and mounting his horse, rode off into the country, five miles and back.
One afternoon, when the master had gone for his usual ride, several of the pupils returned to the studio, wishing to examine a certain picture, and by hook or by crook gained admittance. On an easel was a partly finished canvas, the paint fresh from the hands of the master. The boys examined the work and then began to scuffle–boys of sixteen or seventeen always scuffle when left to themselves. They scuffled so successfully that the easel was upset, and young Van Dyck fell backwards upon the wet canvas, so that the design was transferred to his trousers.
The picture was ruined.
The young men looked upon their work aghast. It meant disgrace for them all.
In despair Van Dyck righted the easel, seized a brush, and began to replace the picture ere it could fade from his memory. His partners in crime looked on with special personal interest and encouraged him with words of lavish praise. He worked to within ten minutes of the time the master was due; and then all made their escape by the window through which they had entered.
The next day, when the class assembled, the pupils were ordered to stand up in line. Then they were catechized individually as to who had replaced the master’s picture with one of his own.
All pleaded ignorance until the master reached the blond-haired Van Dyck. The boy made a clean breast of it all, save that he refused to reveal the names of his accomplices.
“Then you painted the picture alone?”