Godefridus Schalcken may no longer enjoy the fame of his fellow Dutch artists Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69) and Johannes Vermeer (1632–75), but he surely ranked among the most renowned painters of his own era. By the 1670s the young artist’s star had risen rapidly among cognoscenti as an outstanding specialist in genre painting, and an accomplished portraitist in his hometown of Dordrecht and elsewhere in the Netherlands.1 Within just a few years, Schalcken’s renown had reached truly international heights, as he enjoyed patronage in France, the Spanish Netherlands, and in various German principalities. During the last 15 years of his life he embarked upon international travels to satisfy the demands of his ever-growing clientele and to augment his status as a renowned artist. Schalcken initiated this enterprise in the late spring of 1692, when he resettled in London, where he would live and work for roughly the next four years.
During the late seventeenth century a sizable number of Dutch (and Flemish) painters relocated to London, one of the largest and most affluent cities in Europe.2 The Glorious Revolution of 1688 had brought the Dutch stadholder William III and his wife, Mary, to the English throne, with auspicious prospects for persons who made their livelihoods in the creative arts. The couple were very active in refurbishing such royal residences as Hampton Court and Kensington Palace, and in patronizing artists and collecting pictures.3 Needless to say, members of their extensive court, which naturally included a large Dutch contingent, offered still more possibilities for employment among painters. Cultural conditions, and the economic ones that helped to engender them, thus made England immeasurably attractive to Schalcken and other foreign artists.
Schalcken’s London period (1692–96) was a tremendous success, particularly for his portraiture, which attracted eager clients among the upper echelons of society, including the enormous English court. This stunning nocturnal portrait surely ranks among the most extraordinary works of this period in the artist’s career, for this portrait depicts not a living person but a sitter who had died 37 years before the artist’s arrival in England. Schalcken based his image on a portrait of Stuart that Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) had painted in the mid-1630s.4
Schalcken has depicted James Stuart seated in a darkened interior with his faithful greyhound sitting faithfully beside him (according to tradition, the dog saved his life during a boar hunt on the continent). Stuart was a cousin of King Charles I (1600–49), who had appointed him Gentleman of the Bed Chamber in 1625. In 1633 he was made a Privy Councillor and designated a member of the Order of the Garter. An ardent supporter of the royalist cause during the English Civil War, Stuart and his family made great sacrifices on its behalf. Stuart committed large sums of money to the doomed king’s cause, and his two younger brothers were killed during the conflict.
The greatest artist associated with Charles I’s court, Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), immortalized Stuart in several memorable portraits. The best known of those pictures, painted ca. 1633–34 in connection with Stuart’s appointment to the Order of the Garter, hangs today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (fig 1).5 Schalcken, however, closely modeled this work upon a ca. 1636 portrait of Stuart by Van Dyck (fig 2), which presently belongs to the Iveagh Bequest at Kenwood in London.6
Schalcken transformed Van Dyck’s prototype into a night scene, changing the sunset view to the left into a moonscape and, more prominently, adding his signature motif, a glowing candle in a silver candlestick. The lambent highlights on the candlestick glitter like pulsating jewels in the darkness. Indeed, the astonishing execution of this motif and the related light effects are all quintessentially Schalcken. The brilliant candlelight illuminates Stuart’s face, imparting to it a reddish glow. Sections of the painting furthest away from the candle fade into almost monochrome, thereby demonstrating Schalcken’s knowledge of how candlelight diminishes the coloristic intensities of surrounding objects. The mesmerizing appearance of his nocturnal pictures—or night pieces, as they were enthusiastically termed at the time—explains in part the artist’s tremendous success in London as both a portraitist and painter of genre scenes. Apparently, the appeal of light effects of this sort was so strong that the person or persons who commissioned this portrait of James Stuart must have specified that Schalcken transform Van Dyck’s prototype into a nocturne.
This painting raises a number of important questions, among them, where did Schalcken see Van Dyck’s original, and to whom did he sell his own candlelit reinterpretation? Van Dyck’s portrait is listed in an inventory compiled in 1659 of the art collection of Dorothy Percy (ca. 1598–1659), countess of Leicester, stating that she had bequeathed it to her fourth and youngest son, Henry Sidney (1641–1704), 1st Earl of Romney.7 Since the countess bequeathed this picture and not her husband, Robert Sidney (1595–1677), 2nd Earl of Leicester, who survived her, it is likely that either Van Dyck had painted it for her, or that she had purchased it from its initial owner.
Henry Sidney inherited his family’s country home, Long Itchington in Warwickshire, after his father’s death in 1677, but by that time, the young man had already been living several years on Jermyn Street in London.8 Presumably, Van Dyck’s portrait could be found at the Jermyn Street residence until 1695, when Sidney moved to no. 16 St. James’s Square.9 Schalcken must have studied Van Dyck’s canvas at one of these locations. Upon Henry Sidney’s death in 1704 the bulk of his estate, including his art collection, was left to his great-nephew, John Sidney (1680–1737), 6th Earl of Leicester (from 1705).10 Thereafter, the picture returned to Leicester House (the London home of the earls of Leicester), where the famed English antiquarian George Vertue saw it in 1735.11
The precise identity of the person (or persons) who commissioned Schalcken’s portrait of Stuart cannot be determined with any certainty. It would have been impossible for the 1st Duke of Richmond’s direct heir, Esmé Stuart (1649–60) to have commissioned this work since he died in 1660. A more likely candidate is that Henry Sidney did so as a gift to a family member or friend.12 An inventory made of the art collection at Leicester House in 1743, following the demise of Jocelyn Sidney (1682–1743), the 7th Earl of Leicester and great-nephew of Henry Sidney, lists Van Dyck’s portrait of James Stuart but not Schalcken’s candlelit painting of it.13 If Henry Sidney had, indeed, ordered Schalcken’s version for his own collection, then it would still have been hanging at Leicester House. Regardless, the painting’s first owner must have harbored a certain nostalgia for pre-Civil War England in general, and for James Stuart, the Duke of Lennox and Richmond, in particular.14