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"The Light of Nature: Van Dyck"
1999-10-10 until 2000-11-28
The British Museum
London, , UK United Kingdom

The twenty-nine known landscape drawings by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) include some of the most beautiful sketches from nature to survive from the 17th century. Ranging from views of towns and woodland to studies of flowers, they are imbued with a distinct atmosphere and drawn with astonishing freshness and delicacy. Van Dyck made many of them in England - four depict Rye in Sussex - when he was working for King Charles I, and his occasional use of watercolour marks the beginning of the great British tradition in this medium. As a group his drawings are an unusual survival from the hand of a painter who was not a specialist in landscape painting; yet in quality they are comparable to drawings by the most distinguished landscapists of his time.

The exhibition brings together 25 of the 29 known landscape drawings by Van Dyck. Now widely dispersed, they are borrowed from some 20 collections all over Europe and the United States. They have never before been examined other than as an adjunct to his work as a portrait and history painter. By displaying them alongside comparable landscape drawings by Van Dyck's exact contemporaries from Italy, France and the Netherlands as well as his native Flanders, the exhibition demonstrates their exceptional quality. Some of the finest landscape drawings by Poussin, Claude, and Rembrandt, as well as drawings by Domenichino, Guercino, Jan van Goyen, Hollar and many others, will be exhibited and compared with Van Dyck's work. The growth in the number of sketches from nature that survive from the 1620s and 1630s compared with earlier periods will be explored, and for the first time Van Dyck's landscape drawings will be seen in this European-wide context of landscape art.

Van Dyck was born exactly 400 years ago. He was among the most prodigiously gifted artists of the seventeenth or indeed any century. A child prodigy, his drawings seem like effortless productions (bringing Mozart to mind), and have been undervalued because of the importance of his oil paintings. Most of his landscapes were sketched out of doors, directly from nature, and they exhibit considerable freedom and spontaneity. It will be seen that in the 1630s, he already produced drawings of the type developed by Rembrandt in around 1650. The latter's small masterpiece, the Landscape with a Sailing Boat, is being lent from the J. Paul Getty Museum. Claude Lorrain's View with Trees on a Ridge from the British Museum's own collection, and Nicolas Poussin's Landscape in the Campagna from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, as well as three drawings from the Royal Collection, lent by Her Majesty The Queen, will be among the exhibition's highlights. But above all the Van Dycks themselves will be a revelation. Three drawings are being attributed to him for the first time in more than a century, including the large Study of a fallen Tree from the Louvre. Formerly given to Van Dyck's master, Rubens, these three drawings will lead to a reassessment of the relationship between the two artists, revealing that Van Dyck was sometimes given considerable independence when acting as Rubens' assistant.

The sixty drawings in the exhibition are illustrated in colour in a catalogue written by the exhibition curator Martin Royalton Kisch, to accompany the show which is available now from Museum shops price 20. The catalogue also completely re-evaluates the history of sketching directly from nature.


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