Gerson Digital : Britain


Introduction — Horst Gerson

Given the objectively very favourable conditions in Britain, our study would appear at first sight to promise a rich harvest. Relatively isolated in geographical terms, the country was undoubtedly open to the influence of Dutch art. Painting as an art form was still underdeveloped as the 17th century began, but painters of naturalistic portraits were nevertheless in great demand there. Moreover, the court there was both extravagant and receptive to art.1 Overall, then, the situation was conducive to the entry and spread of Dutch art. Subsequently, William III’s accession to the throne in 1689 not only forged a personal union between the two countries, but also heralded a new, active exchange in the field of art, which primarily benefited Holland’s expansionist tendencies.

Offsetting all this, however, was the extensive influence of Flemish art. No Dutch painter ever achieved a standing comparable to that attained by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) who, apart from one brief period, lived and worked in England from 1632 until his death in 1641 and prepared the ground for a host of pupils and imitators. His significance for British art is matched only by that of Hans Holbein II (1497/8-1543). The Flemish influence persisted even after van Dyck’s death, just as it had made itself felt before he arrived in the country. Two lesser-known artists, Pieter Angellis (1685-1734) [3] and Peter Tillemans (1684-1734) [4], exemplify the late phase of this influence.2

The difficulty we face here consists not so much in recognising and acknowledging a British tradition in its own right as in illustrating the influence of Dutch art while not overlooking the Flemish element that it comprised.3

Edwaert Collier
Vanitas still life with regalia and portrait of King William III (1650-1702), dated 1702

Anthony van Dyck
Self-portrait with sunflower, c. 1633
Private collection

Pieter Angellis
King Charles I at Tichfield, learning of the arrival of Colonel Hammond, c. 1722
Yorkshire (hist. county), private collection George Godolphin 8th Duke of Leeds (1802-1872) Osborne

Peter Tillemans
King Charles I addresses his troops in Shrewsbury, before 1728
Yorkshire (hist. county), private collection George Godolphin 8th Duke of Leeds (1802-1872) Osborne


1 [Hearn/van Leeuwen 2022] This was not the case in the 16th century, but only became so in the early 17th century, at the court of James I (1603-1625) and, especially, at the court of Charles I (acceded in 1625).

2 [Hearn/Van Leeuwen 2022] Angellis and Tillemans both worked on a series on ‘The Most Remarkable Transactions of the Reign of Charles I’, which was engraved in 1728. See Raines/Scharpe 1973, Raines/Scharpe 1943; Sale London (Christie’s) 15 November 1996, nos. 19-18, ill.; RKDimages 304677 and RKDimages 304657.

3 [Hearn/van Leeuwen 2022] Up to about 1616, most of the Netherlandish artists active in England and Scotland were Flemish rather than Dutch.

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