An Antwerp Merchant, N(iklaas) Gansacher [?]

Sir Anthony van Dyck
(1599 - 1641)

An Antwerp Merchant, N(iklaas) Gansacher [?]

Painted circa 1619 - 1622

Oil on canvas: 47 ¾ x 36 ¾ in. (121.2 x 93.2 cm.)



Probably by descent to the sitter’s grand-daughter

Marie-Caroline Gansacker (1686 – 1732), who married

Jean-Francois Xavier Lunden (1680 - 1747), Rubens great-grandson,

thence to his niece, Hélène du Mont lit de Brailmont (1688 - 1753);

thence to her daughter, Isabelle de la Bistrate (1717 - 1787);

thence to her daughter, Hélène Strier (1746 - 1807), who marries Jean-Francois de Vinck de Wuestwezel, thence to their daughter

Catherine de Vinck de Wuestwezel (1755 - 1828), wife of Charles-Jean de Bosschaert (1759 - 1828); thence to their daughter,

Charlotte-Emile-Axeline-Catherine de Bosschaert (1872 -1960) married to Pierre-H.-M.-Amédée de Caters, Baron de Caters (1875-1944);

 thence to their daughter, Renée-Jeanne-Emilie-Mathilde-M. de Caters (1904 - 2001 ) who married to Comte Paul-M.-J.-Ch.-Fr.-Xavier (1901 – 1985);

sold by his family, Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, October 2007, Lot 29, as ‘Follower of Sir Anthony Van Dyck’;

With Galerie Barnabe, Paris;

Private collection, France


Paris, Pinacotheque de Paris, March 2010 – April 2015.

Singapore, Pinacotheque de Paris, Inaugural Exhibition, 30 April – 31 October 2015.

Having descended within a noble Antwerp family whose ancestry goes back to Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640), and unknown to scholars until after its sale at auction in 2007, our portrait becomes a significant addition to the youthful oeuvre of Van Dyck, painted in Antwerp circa 1619 – 1621, when the artist was still in his early twenties. The first scholar to support the attribution in full was Dr. Horst Vey in 2008/9, confirming that the painting must date from his first Antwerp period.[1] At this time Van Dyck was still working in Rubens’ studio, and our portrait reflects the influence of his mentor particularly in the manner in which the hands are painted.


An old handwritten label on the reverse of the painting identifies the sitter as ‘N. Gansacher’, whose first name was most likely Niklaas (or Nicholas).  The label states:

N. Gansacher, father of Jacques Gansacher Lord of Schelle and Iteghem, who married with Marie-Marthe Bollaert, their daughter Louise-Marie-Françoise Gansacher (1685-1747) married with Gaspard van Horne (1688-1748) brother of Anne Marguerite van Horne (married with Arnould de Pret).[2]


The label is incorrect though, insofar as the daughter of Jacques Gansacher, who died in 1696, was not Louise-Marie, but Marie-Caroline (1686 – 1732).  She was his only child and heir.  She married Jean Francois Xavier Lunden (1680 – 1747), whose father, Jean Baptiste Lunden (1636 – 1703), was married to Rubens’ grand-daughter Helene Rubens.[3] The Lunden art collection in Antwerp was renowned during the seventeenth century and included many paintings which seem to have come from Rubens’ own collection.[4]


Sadly archival records fail to identify or tell us anything about the life of N. Gansacher. Certainly there is no doubt that Van Dyck’s portrayal is of a very wealthy merchant clothed in expensive black silks. However, his son Jacques became a soldier, a governor of the provinces of Brabant and Flanders, and was knighted and ennobled by Charles II of Spain for his military services in being granted the title of Lord of Schelle, a small municipality to the north-west of Antwerp, as well as Itteghem, dying in 1696.[5] 


All the elements of Van Dyck’s portraiture from his first Antwerp period are on display in our painting, both in execution as well as composition. The artist has used his virtuoso technique to paint with great speed and economy to achieve the effects he requires. This is particularly noticeable in the brilliant brushwork he uses to depict the seat of the chair and landscape background, which is resonant with Venetian painting. Except in areas such as the face and hands, the paint layers are thinly applied with rapid, vigorous brushwork. One noticeable stylistic feature is Van Dyck’s technique of dragging the brush in the flesh areas and towards the hair, and a softness in the delineation of the sitter’s features compared to those portraits by his older master Rubens from the same date. [6] Some scholars have referred to this technique as a ‘loose’ or ‘rough’ style, however Nora de Poorter considers these terms incorrect, arguing that this brisk brushwork was a specific technique used by Van Dyck to convey certain textures, such as hair and textiles, rather than just a stylistic phase during his early career.[7]  Susan Barnes describes this so-called ‘rough’ work most aptly –

‘... their slashing, laden, dry brushwork, strong primary colours, and the brutal naturalism could not have been more different from the metallic smoothness and coolness of Rubens’ paintings in 1615.’[8]


Compositionally the painting displays all the main elements found in other portraits from this period; the Spanish leather chair, the red curtain, the landscape background, as well as the black costume and large black hat held in the sitter’s hand. Comparable male portraits are the full-length of ‘A Man, possibly a member of the Vinque family’ (Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp), ‘An Unknown Man’ (whereabouts unknown), ‘An Elderly Man’ (Jaquemart-Andre Museum, Paris) and ‘An Unknown man’ (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City). [9]


[1] Written communication dated 10 November 2008 and 31 January 2009.

[2] See: Dictionnaire Généalogique et Héraldique des Familles Nobles du Royaume de Belgique, 1849, Volume 2, par Félix-Victor Goethals

[3] We are grateful to Drs. Yvonne Prins, from the Netherlands Centre for Family History, for providing us with this information. Correspondence dated 23/02/16

[4] See: Hans Vlieghe, 'Une Grande Collection Anversoise du Dix-Septiême Siècle, Le Cabinet d'Arnold Lunden, Beau-Frère de Rubens'Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, XIX, 1977, pp. 172-204.

[5] There exists an engraving from 1678 by the Femish engraver Le Roy of a medallion dedicated to Gansacker commemorating his ennoblement by Charles II of Spain.

[6] Alejandro Vergara and Friso Lammertse, The Young Van Dyck, exh. cat., Madrid 2012, p. 32.

[7] S. Barnes, N. De Porter, O. Millar and H.Vey, ‘Van Dyck. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings,’ Yale University Press, New Haven, 2004, p.16.

[8] Susan Barnes and Arthur Wheelock, ‘Van Dyck 350. Studies in the History of Art.’ National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994.

[9] See: S. Barnes, N. De Porter, O. Millar and H.Vey, ‘Van Dyck. A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings,’ Yale University Press, New Haven, 2004, p. 124-5, cat. nos. I.116, I.136, I.140, I.143 and I.144 respectively.

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