This sensitive study of a young man's face was accepted by three leading van Dyck specialists - Sir Oliver Millar, Professor Michael Jaffé and Dr Horst Vey - in 1983 and (by the last named) in 1985. Vey then agreed with Millar's inclination to date the sketch to the second Antwerp period (circa 1627-32), whereas Jaffé had dated it to the first (circa 1615-21). However, the sketch was not included in the recently published catalogue raisonné of van Dyck's paintings (S. Barnes, N. de Poorter, O. Millar, H. Vey, Van Dyck, A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, 2002).
De Poorter, who was responsible for the section on the first Antwerp period, omitted it, concluding on the basis of photographs that the attribution is 'possible, but not certain'. Vey, with Millar's backing, also omitted it from his section dealing with the second Antwerp period, although he now thinks that the decision 'may prove to have [been] too rigorous'. Recently, Millar has reconsidered his opinion; he now believes that the sketch is the work of van Dyck, probably not circa 1630, but earlier, executed before the autumn of 1621 when the young artist left Antwerp for Italy. On this basis, the sketch is here catalogued as the work of van Dyck.
The present work is exceptional insofar as - unlike the other extant oil sketches of heads by the artist - it cannot be directly connected with any of his extant larger compositions. However, the mood and configuration are perhaps reminiscent of the central, youthful member of Theodosius's retinue in van Dyck's ricordo of Ambrose and Theodosius (National Gallery, London) that had been designed by Rubens. Van Dyck's National Gallery picture is generally thought to have been executed in his first Antwerp period. It also has a support similar to other sketches of this phase in his career.
In making such studies of heads, van Dyck depended on an Antwerp tradition most immediately and vividly strengthened by his mentor and second teacher, Peter Paul Rubens. In this mode, he also, of course, exercised his genius as a portraitist, which found an early expression in what is generally accepted as one of his earliest works - the Self Portrait in the Vienna Academy - and then in the series of just over bust length Apostles, in which the young artist probably took as his models those in this immediate circle, who were witnesses and/or assistants in the remarkable, early years of his independent career.
We are grateful to Gregory Martin for the above catalogue entry.