On Saturday 25th January eighteen of our Prince’s Drawing Club students met at the National Portrait Gallery to draw from the last self-portrait of Sir Anthony Van Dyck. The painting is currently the subject of a campaign by the Art Fund and the National Portrait Gallery to secure it for the nation.
The students, aged 10–14 years old, were given an introduction to the portrait by a National Portrait Gallery visitor guide, who also showed them a self-portrait painted by Van Dyck when he was just ten years old. They were asked to think about what the artist was trying to tell us about himself through his choice of angle, clothing, colours, frame and moustache. They then got to work sketching the portrait in pencil.
The painting, dated 1640-1, presents an intimate image of an artist at work. He appears to be in the act of painting, his hand raised in the process of applying paint to a canvas just out of sight. As a young artist herself, Manon, aged 11, noticed that Van Dyck “looked really sure of how he was going to do the portrait and he seems to be saying ‘Look how handsome I am’. ”
The students were very taken with the portrait, enjoying its technical mastery as well as its wry self-consciousness. Maya, also 11, felt that “the portrait had charm. I liked the contrast between his face and that background. He had made good colour choices and the eyes were really eye catching.” Martha, 12, “liked the shaded side of the face and how he fitted it in behind the nose.”
During the session some of the students concentrated on trying to get his facial expression right, while others, such as Daniel, aged 11, were fascinated with the stunning gold frame, describing it as having “great contrasts with the darks and lights.”
Later in the session, tutors Anthony Banks, Constanza Dessain, and Michelle Cioccoloni (all alumni of The Drawing Year) took the students to look at a more contemporary self-portrait by Graham Sutherland for comparison.
Our students were lucky to have their time with the Van Dyck before it goes on a national tour, to Margate, Manchester, Dulwich, Birmingham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Edinburgh. The Save Van Dyck Appeal total now stands at £2.5m and plans are in place to secure large donations from major donors and grant-giving bodies. Public donations have now reached £1 million, which will be added to the £1.2 million already raised from the Gallery and the Art Fund.
The painting has been in a British private collection for nearly 400 years but has been sold to a private collector who now wishes to take it abroad. This is the only chance a museum or a gallery in the United Kingdom has of acquiring the masterpiece. The National Portrait Gallery was given an initial three months to acquire the painting, following a temporary Government export bar to prevent it from being taken overseas.
The students who drew from the Van Dyck last week also attend the Drawing Club that meets weekly at The National Gallery. Many of The Prince’s Drawing Clubs are held in major museums and galleries such as The British Museum, V&A, Royal Academy, Saatchi and Whitechapel Galleries. Spending time drawing from art in such places is not only inspiring for the children but encourages them to develop a sense of ownership and familiarity with our national collections.
To find out more about The National Portrait Gallery’s Save Van Dyck’s Self-portrait appeal, or make a donation, visit www.savevandyck.org
The Prince’s Drawing Clubs is a unique outreach programme providing free, serious, sustained mentoring and tuition in drawing for state-educated children aged 10-18. The Clubs were set up by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2007 and there are now ten Clubs across London and one in Glasgow. To find out more about the Clubs visit www.princesdrawingschool.org
(All photographs (c) Jorge Hererra except for photographs of children’s artwork, which are (c) The Prince’s Drawing School.)