My favourite painting: Bendor Grosvenor

'This penetrating depiction of triumph over adversity never fails to move me.'

The painter Martin Ryckaert, about 1631, by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), 58¼in by 44½in, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Bender Grosvenor says:
This portrait by van Dyck, one of the best portraitists who ever lived, shows his friend and fellow artist, Martin Ryckaert. As is made clear in the painting, Ryckaert had only one arm. Despite the flamboyant dress, the sitter’s face appears to carry an air of melancholy. Emphasis is placed on Ryckaert’s right hand, which grips the chair. This penetrating depiction of triumph over adversity never fails to move me.

Bendor Grosvenor is an art historian and writer. His new TV series, Britain’s Lost Masterpieces, starts on BBC Four on September 28

John McEwen comments on The painter Martin Ryckaert:
As Court painter to Charles I, van Dyck was ‘treated in a way which no other painter in England has ever equalled’ (Michael Levey, Painting at Court). A contemporary wrote on his death:

‘Nor was his life less perfect than his art…
Most other men, set next to him in view,
Appear’d more shadows than the men he drew.’

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It’s easy to forget the first half of his career was already prodigious, as this portrait, painted shortly before his final move to England, testifies.

Van Dyck’s grandfather, an Antwerp silk merchant, had been a painter. His grandson was apprenticed at 10 to Hendrick van Balen, dean of Antwerp’s Guild of St Luke, and, by 17, had his own studio and assistants. He was enrolled as a master in the guild at 19. The same year, Rubens, grandest painter of the age, described him as ‘the best of my pupils’— ‘collaborator’ might be more accurate.

In 1620, James I granted him an annual pension of £100. From 1621 to 1627, he was in Italy, where he was unpopular among artists for behaving with ‘the pomp of Zeuxis’. That he had the right to such self-esteem is demonstrated by this portrait of his close, ailing friend and fellow Antwerp painter, Martin Ryckaert (1587–1631).

Ryckaert, ‘the painter with one arm’, came from a family of artists. He’s thought to have been apprenticed to Rubens’s teacher, Tobias Verhaecht. He also visited Italy and is known for small mountainous Arcadian landscapes in an Italianate style. Van Dyck, with northern realism, doesn’t hide his disability, but honours him with magnificence.