23 December 2018

Van Dyck or not Van Dyck? The ‘Great Peece’ at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London



On a dark December day in 2017, JVDPPP co-founder Justin Davies and Archival Researcher UK James Mulraine stumbled across a remarkable story in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery, London. They were examining the archive of the famous Van Dyck scholar, Sir Lionel Cust, who was also the Surveyor of the King’s Pictures from 1901 to 1927.

Sir John Lavery, ‘Portrait of Sir Lionel Cust’, oil on board, 35.3 x 25.2 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London, inv. no. 6337

They uncovered the 1903 correspondence between an In-Pensioner of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, Corporal Charles Dyas, late 1st Life Guards, known as ‘the Giant’ – he was 6’6″, and Cust. Dyas, who was writing a history of the hospital, claimed to Cust, not without reason, that the painting of the ‘Greate Peece’ in Windsor Castle was a copy after Van Dyck and that the original was the one hanging in the State Apartments in Chelsea.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, ‘Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria with their two eldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Mary’, oil on canvas, 303.8 x 256.5 cm, H. M. The Queen, RCIN 405353

The ‘Great Peece’ is one of Van Dyck’s most famous paintings and was commissioned by Charles soon after the former’s arrival in London in 1632. The clues contained in the Cust-Dyas correspondence led to a great deal of further archival research by JVDPPP and an examination of Van Dyck’s oil sketch on panel for the ‘Great Peece’ in the Royal Collection.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, ‘Sketch of Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria with their two eldest children, Prince Charles and princess Mary’, oil on panel, 19.7 x 23.5 cm, H. M. The Queen, RCIN 408584

JVDPPP was invited by the Governor of the Royal Hospital, General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, to relate the tale of the unlikely art historical collaboration between Cust and Dyas. Also, to answer the fundamental question raised by Dyas. Is the Chelsea painting a Van Dyck or not a Van Dyck?

(L-R) James Mulraine, Justin Davies and General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, Governor of the Royal Hospital Chelsea

Kindly assisted by Simon Gillespie and Joost Vander Auwera, Justin and James gave a talk in the State Apartments on Tuesday 6th November.

(L-R) Dr. Jeannie Chapel, Dr. Karen Hearn, Dr. Lucy Whitaker, Simon Gillespie

As JVDPPP has been invited back to repeat the talk – and the first talk has led to the frame providing yet more clues – to the Friends of the Royal Hospital in April, we will not reveal our findings yet but soon thereafter. An oblique clue is that the answer as to whether it is or is not a Van Dyck lies in both Antwerp and London.

Justin Davies

How to cite: Davies, Justin. “Van Dyck or not Van Dyck? The ‘Great Peece’ at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London” In Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project.
jordaensvandyck.org/great-peece-at-the-royal-hospital-chelsea-london/ (accessed 15 September 2019)

© Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project (terms and conditions)


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