Tag Archives: Joseph Van Aken

Whitley on Van Aken

W.T. Whitley, in his Artists and Their Friends in England 1700—1799, has some more to say on the practice of Joseph Vanaken. Whitley’s quotes are in turn from George Vertue.

Joseph Vanaken…was a native of Antwerp who settled in London when a young man and remained there until the end of his life. “A man of good round face, shortish stature, and a small cast with one eye,” he was indispensable not only to such men as Winstanley, but to fashionable London artists such as Vanderbank, Hudson, Ramsay, Whood, Davison and others. “Mr. Vanaken,” says Vertue, “having an excellent, free, genteel and florid manner of penciling silks, satins, velvets, gold lace, etc., has worked hard for several painters for dressing and decorating their pictures, which without his help and skill would make but a poor figure… They send their pictures, when they have done the face, to be drest by him, in which he has a very ready talent and more merit than anyone living since the time of Baptist, who painted in that way for Sir Peter Lely. It is a great addition to their work, and indeed puts them so much on a level that is is difficult to know one hand from another.”

The Redgraves, in A Century of Painters, say that Vanaken was retained by two artists who paid him a joint salary of eight hundred guineas a year on condition that he worked for no one else; but this does not agree with the account of Vertue, who mentions the names of six or seven men at least who were assisted by the Antwerp artist. There was, however some kind of ring or combination to control his services, as Robinson of Bath discovered when he came to London…

Robinson…calculated on the assistance of Vanaken, but was unable to obtain it, as the drapery painter’s regular customers threatened to leave him if he worked for the new-comer. It is not clear why Vanaken gave way to them, as he must have known that he was indispensable; but he gave way, as he did before when the same group prevented Vanloo from making use of his services. Vanaken, who made a great deal of money, and collected pictures for his own pleasure, seems to have been destitute of ambition, for he is said to have been a good painter both of portraits and history.

As for the unfortunate Winstanley, here is the combination of Whitley and Vertue on his painterly skills.

Hamlet Winstanley, the pupil of Kneller at the Academy and the first teacher of that fine painter George Stubbs, had a considerable practice in portraiture in Lancashire and other northern counties, but he could do nothing beyond the faces of his sitters. The figures and draperies were beyond the powers of his brush and the painting of a group or composition out of the question. He was obliged, therefore, to invent a method “quite new and extraordinary.”

“Winstanley travelled about and drew pictures from the life in oil colours—often on small pieces of cloth, only the face; pasted them when sent to London on larger cloths; one, two three or more whole family pieces he did in this manner; only did the faces, sent them to town to Mr. Vanaken an excellent painter of drapery. He stuck the, on large strained cloths as he pleased an made postures and draperies, and so made them complete pictures. This sort of trade Winstanley pursued.”

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is a portrait of John Blackburne `by’ Winstanley.

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Rouquet on Drapery Painting

Rouquet on Drapery Painting

The practice of having a specialist drapery painter work on the clothes of sitters after the artist had painted in the face was quite common in 18th-century portrait painting. Rouquet offers the following observations and anecdotes.

When a portrait painter happens to have a little business, it is usual for him to employ other hands in the painting of the drapery. Two rival artists took it into their heads to hire entirely to themselves another painter whose name was Vanhaken, to be employed in the drawing of the drapery: this man had real abilities, and might have done much better things, but chose to confine himself to this branch, because he was always sure of business. The two painters agreed to pay him eight hundred guineas a year, whether they could find work for him to this amount or not; and he on his side engaged to paint no drapery but for them. When either of those painters was employed to draw a picture, it was frequently on condition that the drapery should be done by Vanhaken. And indeed his drapery was charming, in an excellent taste, and extremely natural. The two rival painters who had thus engrossed Vanhaken, occasioned a great deal of confusion among the rest of their brother artists, who could not do without his assistance. The best of them knew not how to draw a hand, a coat or ground; they were obliged to learn it, and of course to work harder. Sad misfortune! From that time ceased that extraordinary sight at Vanhaken’s, when he used to have canvases sent him from different parts of London, and by the stage coaches from the most remote towns in England, on which one or more masks were painted, and at the bottom of which the painter who sent them took care to add the description of the figures, whether large or small, which he was to give them. Nothing can be more ridiculous than this custom, which would have still continued, had Vanhaken still continued. (Rouquet 1755, 44-45).

Rouquet’s Vanhaken was Joseph Van Aken (c.1699—1749) (his recent death occasioning the ` had Vanhaken still continued’ comment) who was indeed a notable drapery painter, although I am not sure about the story of two artists cornering the market. The Oxford Dictionary of Art notes that he `worked for Highmore, Hudson, Knapton, Ramsay, and others’.

See Also:

    Rouquet on Art Auctions

Rouquet on Kneller