art, child development, National Gallery, parenting, Van Dyck

The case of a missing Van Dyck

We have a copy of Van Dyck at home, as above. Here Van Dyck depicted his close friend, Francois Langlois, who was an engraver and an art dealer. This is my favourite work by Van Dyck, one he didn’t paint for big bucks and indeed never got a penny out of. For once he just painted what he liked.

Back in August, when my twins were 3 years and 2 months old my son asked me to explain what it was, pointing at the painting. So, I did. I said it was a painting by Van Dyck, of his friend.

‘And a dog,’ my son said.

‘Yes, there’s a dog here too,’ I agreed. ‘He must have had a dog.’

Then my son said:

‘Mammy, let’s go to Van Dyck.’

And I thought: Why not?

And so we went on our first visit to the National Gallery. My grand design was first to take them to the portrait they already knew, then try to explain to them that Van Dyck had painted many more things and show them around.

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To cut the short story short our visit to the National Gallery lasted about 3 minutes. When we entered Van Dyck’s room, we discovered that the portrait of Langlois wasn’t there. They had taken it down for whatever reason. They had no idea what a volatile material I was dealing with – brains of three-year-olds. I did my best to convince my little visitors that all they saw around was Van Dyck, but they kept on saying: ‘Mammy, let’s go home.’ And we did. As we were leaving, my son said: ‘Mammy, we’re going to see Van Dyck, alright?’ I replied: ‘Unfortunately not. Not until you appreciate there’s more to Van Dyck.’

After this visit they kept on reminding me about Van Dyck and the fact that they still hadn’t seen him (the panting is still on our wall, so I suppose there’s no escape). But weeks passed and eventually the word ‘Van Dyck’ parted from our vocabulary… Until the early days of October, when my daughter came up to me out of the blue and said: ‘Mammy, I want to see Van Dyck.’ So, I agreed once again and I didn’t regret.

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They were only 3 years 4 months old now, but the transformation was spectacular. There was still no trace of our good old Langlois, but they accepted that everything in the room was Van Dyck. I told them about the king. They were more excited about the horse. I told them: ‘If you must know Van Dyck didn’t even paint the horse. He wouldn’t paint horses and clothes. He would subcontract it.’ No, I’m not claiming they understood it (well, I just don’t know), but they listened to me attentively. I was able to take them to other rooms and we talked about boats and houses and trees. I showed them another Van Dyck, in another room. Then my son pointed to a painting opposite and asked: ‘Is this also Van Dyck?’ And I said: ‘No, this is Rubens.’ And thus we moved on.

From Van Dyck as an item to Van Dyck as a category in less than three months. From Van Dyck as a category to Van Dyck as a part of the artistic universe in one single visit. From one dimension to three… In less than three months they developed the ability to see a work of art not in isolation, but as a part of a larger creative input by the same individual. In less than a day they realised this input was only the beginning of their journey into the world of art. It looked like the next dimension was only around the corner.


We were so excited we went to the National Gallery again, and this time we took a proper adult tour of the place, getting properly tired as a result:


No new dimensions were discovered on that day.


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