Richard van Bleeck was born in The Hague around 1670 and went on to study in Amsterdam under the artists Daniel Haring and Theodoor van der Schuur, becoming skilled in both historical and landscape painting. He graduated as a master of painting in September 1695 leaving for London almost immediately. Whilst there is very little evidence of his movements at this time it is recorded that he travelled between England and Holland quite frequently, the desire to be in London perhaps a result of the decline in The Hague’s fortunes due to the absence of a court, William III, the stadholder-King having moved his royal residence to England in 1689 upon ascending the British throne. He married in 1697 and again returned to Holland in 1705 where his portrait of the artist Coenraet Roepel (Van Haeften, Old Master Paintings, 1984) earned him much praise. His son, Pieter, is recorded as practicing in London by 1723 and a self-portrait of Richard, known to us now only through a mezzotint by Pieter, was also completed that year. He was certainly well established and living permanently in London by 1727 when it was noted that he had numerous commissions, a good income, with his two surviving daughters successfully married. It is perhaps no coincidence that his travels to Holland became less frequent as his artist brother, Baptist died in The Hague in 1720. His latter years in England were spent painting many portraits of visiting Dutch merchants and Roman Catholic families.
English works undertaken by Bleeck on his first visit demonstrate a portrait style that was competent yet essentially pedestrian, perhaps driven to much by a desire to conform as much by a need to depict the sober nature of the professional classes he was commissioned to paint, (Sir John Holt, Judge and Sylvester Petyt, lawyer; National Portrait Gallery, London). As the golden age of Dutch art declined French and Italian influence became increasingly dominant with artists such as Adriaen van der Werff (1659-1722) and Cornelis Troost (1697-1750) embracing this emerging rococo manner. Bleeck’s visits back to his homeland will have brought him in direct contact with these continental developments so that by the 1720s his style had evolved affording him the opportunity to offer a manner of portrait, such as this one, not widely available in England at this time.
Therefore the portrait presented here displays the elegant pictorial rhetoric typical of French portraiture of the period, though slightly tempered as befits a Dutch painter providing for an English market. Swathed in a red cloak the composition is enlivened by this seemingly non-specific drapery intended to provide the desired French effect of activity; what some English critics derisively termed “flutter”. The upright head, the turn of the body and the expressive gesture of the hand represents an unspoken communication with the viewer, conveying courteous authority and representing in the static world of the painting the mannered gestures and conversation that were the expression of gentlemanly conduct in Hanoverian society. The identical style of the coat and complimentary colouring of this portrait and the following (Stock No:MB/BH02) suggests an unknown allegiance between the two men, familiar or otherwise; they first appeared together on the English art market in 1979 and were both painted around 1728, the year Bleeck also portrayed the 8th Duke of Norfolk. They are offered individually or as a pair; please enquire for further details.
Portraits by Richard van Bleeck can be found at the National Portrait Gallery, London as well as in other European collections; however it is worth noting that to date only about forty paintings by van Bleeck have been successfully attributed. Given his successful studio it surely represents a small proportion of what he must have painted during a career of some forty years.
Literature: This portrait is listed in Professor D.F. McKenzie “Richard van Bleeck’s Painting of William Congreve as Contemplative (1715): The Review of English Studies” New Series, Vol. 51, No. 201 (Feb 2000), appendix p.59 no.35