This superb new biography provides the fullest narrative of Van Dyck's life and personality to appear in English. Commonly pigeonholed as a follower of Rubens or as the court painter of the Stuarts, Van Dyck here appears not only as a remarkably individual portraitist but as a fully rounded baroque artist of memorable power. Robin Blake brings together discoveries about Van Dyck's life and work that have emerged over the past decade, and treats famous and less familiar works as informative sources for the painter's story. "Van Dyck was a man who defined himself almost entirely through his work," Mr. Blake writes. "The satisfactions he derived from it are the most important keys to his character." The death of his mother when he was seven led to troubling attacks of melancholy throughout Van Dyck's life, which he held at bay by keeping up a punishing work schedule. He knew most of the great men and women of his day, but Mr. Blake's story is also enlivened by glimpses of lesser figures. His prodigious research, combined with his enormous enthusiasm for his subject, has produced an engrossing account of the public and private life of an unusually driven genius. The Literary Review (London) calls the book a "robust celebration of a great painter." Antonia Fraser, writing in the Sunday Times, finds it "an excellent read...genuinely interesting and well-researched." With 32 pages of black-and-white illustrations.
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Robin Blake's other books include Mind Over Medicine, Compulsion (with Eleanor Stephens), and two novels, Fat Man's Shadow and The Gwailo. He lives and writes in London.From Publishers Weekly:
Famous for his so-called "swagger portraits" of 17th-century European noblemen, Van Dyck (1599-1641) is most often seen as a courtier interested only in flattering the rich and famous of the baroque era. For the artist's quadricentennial last year, British author Blake (Mind Over Medicine; Fat Man's Shadow) produced this more sympathetic life of the painter, now published in the U.S., recasting the relatively few facts that are known about the painter's life. The book is divided into three sections based on the artist's first name as it changed with his locale: early years in Antwerp as Antoon; apprentice years in Italy as Antonio; and finally England, where Van Dyck became Sir Anthony, a commercial and artistic success painting the Stuarts. Blake is not an art historian, and his book often goes out on speculative limbs, particularly in positing romantic relationships for Van Dyck with models, for which definitive documentation does not exist. He relies heavily on secondary sources, but chooses them well, making for a lively if sometimes overly romantic narrative of the artist among the fabulously wealthy and powerful, reaching a sad climax when Van Dyck dies (of what remains unknown) just as his young wife gives birth to their first child. The bibliography helpfully lists ISBNs whenever possible, and includes the address of Blake's personal Web site devoted to Van Dyck (www.vandyck.co.uk) as well as those of numerous sites where photos of the artist's work may be seen. Scholars, however, would be better served by Christopher Brown's less excitable study. 3 inserts of b&w reproductions. (Apr.)
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