The Great British Art Tour: filters and a facelift – a 17th-century selfie

With public art collections closed we are bringing the art to you, exploring highlights from across the country in partnership with Art UK. Today’s pick: Leamington Spa’s Self-Portrait by Candelight by Schalcken

Godfried Schalcken was already famous in his homeland of the Dutch Republic when he sailed for England in 1692. Celebrated for his small, intricately detailed nocturnal scenes, Schalcken hoped to grow his following across the Channel in the court of King William and Queen Mary and vie for the position of official portrait painter to the Crown.

This self-portrait acted as his visual CV. Aware that no other portrait painter in England at that time could rival his mastery of light and shade, Schalcken bathes the scene in candlelight, promoting his unique skill. He identifies himself as the author of this work by blatantly pointing to the artist’s palette in his left hand. Light shimmers off the red silk swag and Schalcken’s silk slashed doublet, recalling the portraits of Anthony Van Dyck. In this way, Schalcken claims his place in a distinguished line of Dutch artists working as court painters in England.

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