This evocative work was painted by the young Van Dyck when he was still in Rubens's studio and shows how fully he had absorbed the lessons of his master, as well as how soon he had begun to assert his own style. Making study heads from a live model was first introduced in the Southern Netherlands by Frans Floris and later eagerly embraced by Rubens and then Van Dyck. The heads became part of the studio repertory, kept on hand to be used in various multi-figured compositions throughout the artists' careers. Rubens so valued Van Dyck's studies that he kept them long after his prize pupil had left his workshop, and many appear in the inventory of his studio at his death.
The combining of several studies of figures on the same sheet is less common than single heads, but Van Dyck, Rubens and Jordaens all did so upon occasion. Surely there was an advantage to the artist, when he had the model before him, in putting down two or more studies on a single canvas, panel or sheet of paper. There must also have been the sheer aesthetic pleasure of arranging multiple studies to create a single composition – a feat Van Dyck brought to its highest level in his Charles I in Three Positions (Barnes, N. de Poorter IV.48) in the Royal Collection. There were probably more multi-figured studies than we know, for evidence suggests that some were later cut apart.
In Two Studies of a Bearded Man Van Dyck paints the same man in bust-length from two slightly different positions: one in three-quarter view looking down and the other full face, glaring out at the viewer. The sitter is an unidentified model whose domed forehead, deep-set eyes and full beard and hair make him an ideal type for a variety of figures in Van Dyck's early religious and mythological paintings, as well as for Rubens's studio compositions. Van Dyck used the study on the left of the present picture as a model for the man threatening Christ with his fist in the early Christ Crowned with Thorns in Madrid (see fig. 1) and as an observer in Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me in Ottawa (Barnes, N. de Poorter I.14). He transformed the study at the right into the fully realized half-length figure Man with a Bow and a Sheaf of Arrows in Bayonne (see fig. 2) and reduced it and used the head alone for one of the hunters in the Boar Hunt in Dresden (Barnes, N. de Poorter I.88).
One of the most remarkable aspects of the present work is the way Van Dyck created two distinct personalities from a single model. The figure at the left, with his bent head and downward glance, has a pensive quality. His eyes and cheeks are largely in shadow making them seem sunken and his long nose appears to tilt slightly up. He is an unthreatening figure, who seems withdrawn into himself. In contrast, the figure at the right is angry and challenging as he stares out at us. Van Dyck paints him in full face, emphasizing the bulge of his forehead and the breadth of his cheek and making him seem larger and stronger than his counterpart. Even his nose appears to be more aquiline and his beard wilder, giving him an altogether fiercer appearance.
Distinguishing Van Dyck's study heads from those by Rubens is a problem that has plagued scholars and collectors for centuries and continues to do so. The authors of the most recent catalogue of Van Dyck's paintings have chosen to include only those works where the connections to Van Dyck's finished compositions are clearly established, and this is one of just approximately one dozen such studies. While Two Studies of a Bearded Man owes a recognizable debt to Rubens in the overall color scheme, the bold brush work and even the selection of the model, it is clearly the work of Van Dyck. The artist, even at the early age of twenty or twenty-one, had already become entranced by the application of paint to canvas. In the figure at the left, he builds up the cheeks in short strokes of thick, rich paint interspersed with thinner, flatter areas. The dense beard is paradoxically more thinly painted, with dark crescents and a few fine white lines painted over a neutral background through which the weave of the canvas is visible. The effect is to create a tension between what we perceive as a three dimensional figure and what we see as a two dimensional surface, but done with such remarkable dexterity as to keep it all in balance. It is this facility and elegance, -- later to become the hallmark of Van Dyck's mature style,-- that distinguishes this early and important study and sets it apart from other works of this period.
A Note on the Provenance:
While a number of studies of two heads are mentioned in early inventories (intriguingly in Spain and in Italy within only a few years of van Dyck's death), the first secure owner of Two Studies of a Bearded Man was Sir John Charles Robinson (1824-1913), one of the leading connoisseurs of his day. Robinson was one of the founding curators of the South Kensington Museum (now Victoria and Albert), where he worked from 1852 until 1863. During his years there, and following his departure, he bought works of art, not only for his own collection and that of the museum, but also for private collectors who trusted his keen eye and good connections. His voyages throughout the continent allowed him to acquire a wide variety of paintings, sculpture and objects of importance and beauty. He was perhaps the most important scholar of Renaissance drawings of the nineteenth century, writing ground breaking books on Michelangelo and Raphael, and later in his career was appointed to the singular honor of Keeper of the Queen's Pictures.
One of the primary beneficiaries of Robinson's talent was the collection of the Cook family, formed primarily by Sir Francis Cook, 1st Bt. Cook made a fortune in the textile business and with his considerable wealth began to form one of the most important art collections of the Victorian age. Although drawn to collecting even at an early age during his requisite trip to Italy, it was only with the acquisition in 1868 of about thirty paintings from Robinson's collection (after his departure from the museum) that Cook became a serious collector. This relationship between the two men would continue for the next three decades during which Cook, with Robinson's aid, amassed over 500 pictures, many of them absolute masterpieces. Two Studies of a Bearded Man was acquired by Sir Francis directly from Robinson himself. It is recorded by 1907 as hanging in the Long Gallery on the ground floor of Doughty House, the Georgian Mansion in Richmond (just outside the urban sprawl of London) where the Cooks displayed their magnificent collections. It was displayed there on the return wall of the gallery among a selection of other works by van Dyck, including an oil sketch for the Betrayal of Christ at the Prado, Madrid (now Minneapolis Museum of Fine Arts) as well as other masterpieces of the Dutch and Flemish schools.
The painting remained in the Cook family until 1946 when it was sold by Cook's great grandson to the dealer F.A. Drey in London. It was eventually acquired by Montgomery Harrison Wadsworth Ritchie (December 2, 1910 – July 19,1999) in 1952. Montie, as he was generally known, was a remarkable man -- a cowboy, a pilot and a banker, as well as a collector focusing on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist pictures. He was born an English village to an American father and an English mother. After graduating from Cambridge University he traveled to the United States to visit his family's ranch near Amarillo, Texas. During its peak the JA Ranch had encompassed 1.3 million acres, but because of drought and the Great Depression it had incurred enormous debts, and the manager recommended that it be sold to pay off the creditors. Ritchie decided instead to revive it and beginning as a ranch hand worked his way up to manager and spent the next decade building up and consolidating the ranch.
During the 1940s he began buying paintings and put together an impressive collection of works by Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin and Seurat, among others. In 1992, he donated three fourths of his collection to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, of which he was a lifetime member and where many of his paintings, including The Two Studies of a Bearded Man were on loan. The Van Dyck was his only true Old Master, although he also had works by the great English nineteenth century landscape painters Turner and Constable.
We are grateful to John Somerville, Keeper of the Cook Collection Archive, for his help in cataloguing this lot.
Oil on canvas
Sir Anthony van Anthonie Antoon Dyck Dijck
On extended loan to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, Tenn.
18 1/4 by 25 1/2 in.; 45 by 67 cm.
Abridged Catalogue of the Pictures at Doughty House, Richmond. (Belonging to Sir Frederick Cook, Bart., Visconde de Monserrate) London 1907 & 1914, p. 20, no. 51, in The Long Gallery as "Heads of Two Apostles";
E. Schaeffer, Van Dyck: des Meisters Gemälde, Klassiker der Kunst, vol. 13, Stuttgart and Leipzig 1909, p. 9;
J.O. Kronig, A Catalogue of the Paintings at Doughty House, Richmond, & Elsewhere in the Collection of Sir Frederick Cook, Bt., Visconde de Monserrate, ed. by Herbert Cook, vol. 2, London 1914: Dutch and Flemish Schools, no. 252, in The Long Gallery as "Heads of Two Apostles", reproduced fig. 252;
H. Rosenbaum, Der junge van Dyck (1615-1621), Ph.D. dissertation, for Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich 1928, p. 44;
G. Glück, Van Dyck, des Meisters Gemälde, Klassiker der Kunst, vol. 13, Stuttgart and Berlin 1931, 2nd rev. ed., pp. 36 and 522;
Abridged Catalogue of the Pictures at Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey, in the Collection of Sir Herbert Cook, Bart., London 1932, p. 36, no. 252, in The Long Gallery as "Heads of Two Apostles";
H. Vey, "De Apostel Judas Thaddeus", in Bulletin Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, vol. 10, 1959, p. 91;
E. Larsen, L'Opera completa di Van Dyck, 1613-1626, Milan 1980, p. 88, no. 66, reproduced p. 89;
A. McNairn, The Young Van Dyck / Le jeune Van Dyck, exhibition catalogue, Ottawa 1980, p. 51 under no. 12;
M. Roland, "Some thoughts on van Dyck's Apostle Series", in Revue d'Art Canadienne / Canadian Art Review (RACAR), vol. 10, 1983, p. 25;
E. Larsen, The Paintings of Anthony van Dyck, Luca 1988, vol. II, p. 70, no. 143, reproduced;
S. Barnes, N. de Poorter et al, Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London 2004, pp. 88-89, no. I-90, reproduced in reverse, and p.40 under no. I-23.
Sir J.C. Robinson (1824 – 1913), from whom acquired by;
Sir Francis Cook, 1st Bt. (1817-1901), Richmond;
Sir Frederick Cook, 2nd Bt. (1844-1920), Richmond;
Sir Herbert Cook, 3rd Bt. ( 1868-1939), Richmond;
Sir Francis Cook, 4th Bt. (1907-1978);
By whom sold to F.A. Drey with eight other paintings, April 14, 1946;
With F.A. Drey, London;
From whom acquired by I. Rosenbaum in 1947;
With I. Rosenbaum N.V., Amsterdam;
With Van Diemen-Lilienfeld Galleries, New York;
From whom acquired by Montgomery H.W. Ritchie in 1952;
Thence by descent to the present owner.