As with many of van Dyck’s best likenesses, the work offered here portrays a friend or close acquaintance. Its extraordinary liveliness must at least in part be credited to the obvious affection the painter held towards his model, François Langlois, called Chartres after his birthplace. He is identified by the inscription on an engraving by Jean Pesne, probably published in 1645, two years before his death (fig. 1; see S. Turner, The New Hollstein Dutch & Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts, 1450-1700. Anthony van Dyck, Rotterdam 2002, vol. 6, no. 454, ill.). Well-travelled and well-connected, Langlois built up a successful business as a print dealer and publisher. The firm’s central position on the international art market lasted well into the eighteenth century, after Langlois’ widow Madeleine married another publisher, Pierre I Mariette (ca. 1603-1657), whose son Pierre II (1634-1716), grandson Jean (1660-1742), and great-grandson Pierre-Jean (1694-1774), each added to the renown of the business.
It is Pierre-Jean Mariette, himself perhaps the greatest eighteenth-century connoisseur and collector of prints and drawings, who provided essential information about the portrait in his manuscript notes (published in Chennevières and Montaiglon, op. cit., vol. 5, Paris 1858-1859, p. 371). Mariette recorded that Langlois and van Dyck were in contact when the latter visited Paris in January 1641, and noted that the artist had underlined his friendship with Langlois by painting his portrait ‘et y avoir employé tout l’art don’t il étoit capable’ (putting in it all the skill he was capable of). ‘Van Dyck not only gave the painting to Langlois as a present,’ Mariette continues, ‘but made a second version for himself.’ Until recently, a painting previously in the collection of Viscount Cowdray and now jointly owned by the National Gallery, London, and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham, was considered the only surviving autograph version (fig. 1; see O. Millar in Barnes et al., op. cit., no. IV.152, ill.; S. Alsteens in New York 2016, op. cit., no. 96, ill.), a view still subscribed to by Dr. Christopher Brown. Rightly celebrated as ‘a work of the finest quality’, with the head ‘very fully modelled’ and the instrument ‘painted with a beautiful liquid touch’ (Barnes et al., op. cit., p. 549), that painting was assumed to be the one owned by Langlois, and engraved during his lifetime by Pesne.
Recently, however, the version presented here was recognized as one of the two autograph versions mentioned by Mariette, an attribution supported by Susan J. Barnes in a private communication, 5 February 2013 (see also New York 2016, op. cit., p. 252). Moreover, it is surely the version owned by Langlois, as Pesne’s print, published by the sitter, corresponds closely to that picture, as the 2012 buyer was the first to notice; see, for instance, the way in which the rim of the hat reaches Langlois’ head at the neck, rather than the shoulder; and the way the folded part of the rim touches the hat’s central part. As the print was probably published in 1645 and certainly by Langlois’ death in 1647, it is highly unlikely that any other versions were circulating at the time. It is also noteworthy that in both pictures the red of the sitter’s dress clearly runs beneath a significant part of the greyhound’s nose – not a practice likely to have been employed by anyone copying the composition. This revelation made it possible to revise the early provenance of the paintings, with the present example likely having passed from the hands of the sitter to such prestigious seventeenth-, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collections as those of the Marquis de Maisons, the Prince de Conti (as noted by Mariette), and the Ducs de Choiseul-Praslin. The painting shared between London and Birmingham, on the other hand, is therefore likely to be the version van Dyck kept for himself, and after his death possibly never left England.
Apart from allowing the identification of the sitter and clarifying the provenance of the two autograph versions, Pesne’s engraving also provides the key to understanding the way in which Langlois is represented in the portrait. As the second state of the engraving records, Langlois was not only a ‘dealer in books and prints in Paris’, but he also ‘excelloit a jouer de la Musette et de plusieurs autres Instruments’ (excelled at playing the musette, as well as several other instruments). Langlois is shown by van Dyck while playing a type of bagpipes known as a musette, ‘associated with virtuoso music enjoyed in a courtly context’ (New York 2016, op. cit., p. 252). The prestige of the instrument and the relatively soigné clothes worn by Langlois argue against the idea that he is represented in the guise of a Savoyard, a travelling street musician, as has been argued (see L. Cust, Anthony van Dyck. An Historical Study of His Life and Works, London 1900, pp. 52-53). Rather, van Dyck’s painting must be compared to an earlier portrait of Langlois by Claude Vignon, in which he wears a much fancier, ‘Spanish’ costume and also plays a musette (Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College; see New York 2016, op. cit., p. 252, fig. 149).
It is possible that van Dyck was inspired by Vignon’s model, which he could have seen at Langlois’ home when visiting Paris. Although it has also been proposed that van Dyck’s portrait dates from his Italian period (1621-1628), notably by Erik Larsen (The Paintings of Anthony van Dyck, vol. 2, Freren 1988, p. 218, under no. 538), it is now generally believed to be a work from his later years, when he was based in England, but travelled occasionally to the Continent (see Barnes et al., op. cit., p. 549; and New York 2016, op. cit., p. 252). Such a date appears to be confirmed by van Dyck’s magnificent chalk sketch for the portrait at the Frits Lugt Collection, Paris (fig. 2; see New York 2016, op. cit., no. 96, ill.), of which the style can be compared to other drawings from the artist’s final decade, including a sheet in the same collection, representing Cesare Alessandro Scaglia and dated around 1634 (see A. Eaker ibid., no. 25, ill.). As so often, van Dyck modified several details of the drawing when working on the painting, replacing the melancholy mood of the sketch with the ‘relaxed mood and genial character’ of the painted versions (Barnes et al., op. cit., p. 252). The result in one of the most engaging and memorable likenesses by one of the greatest portraitists of his age.
We are grateful to Susan J. Barnes and Malcolm Rogers for confirming the attribution to Van Dyck. Rev. Barnes inspected the original in 2013 and in March 2018 has confirmed her opinion. Dr. Rogers has inspected the original on several occasions and in Frebruary 2018 has confirmed his opinion.