Eyck, John Van

, younger brother to the preceding, and the supposed inventor of oil-painting, was borii at Maaseyk in 1370, and studied with his brother, whom he afterwards excelled. His great discovery is said to have been made in 1410, in the following manner: He had painted a picture in the usual way (in distemper), and having varnished it, set it to dry in the sun’s rays, as was customary; but either from the wood being ill seasoned and ill put together, or from the extreme violence of the heat, the picture was cracked and quite spoiled. He therefore deliberated how he should in future best prevent accidents of this nature happening to his works, and endeavoured to make a varnish which would dry in the shade, without the necessity of exposing it to the sun. After many experiments, he found at last that oil of linseed and of nuts, were more siccative than any others he had tried. These, when boiled with other ingredients, made the varnish so much wished for by him and other painters. He afterwards discovered that mixing these oils with his colours gave them a hardness, and in drying not only equalled the water colour, but gave them more brilliancy and force and that, without the necessity of varnishing afterwards and he was surprised to find also, that they united far better in oil than in water.

The fame of this discovery soon spread over Flanders and into Italy; and when he grew old, but not till then, he imparted his secret to several painters, both Flemish and Italian. And it must be confessed the art of painting is very highly indebted to him for this foundation of the wonderful success with which succeeding ages have profited by this very useful discovery. As a painter he possessed very good talents, considering the early period of | the art. He copied his heads generally from rtature; his figures are seldom well composed or drawn. But his power of producing richness of positive colours is surprising, and their durability no less so. He paid great attention evidently to nature, but saw her in an inferior style. He la-> boured his pictures very highly, particularly in the ornaments, which he bestowed with a lavish hand, but with alf the Gothic taste of the time and country in which he lived. In the gallery of the Louvre is a picture of the “Divine Being,” as he chose to call it, represented by an aged man with a long beard, crowned with the pope’s tiara, seated in a chair with golden circles of Latin inscriptions round his head, but without the least dignity of character, or evident action or intention. It is the very bathos of the art. At the earl of Pembroke’s, at Wilton house, is a small picture which does him more credit. -It represents the nativity of our Saviour, with the adoration of the shepherds, and the composition consists of four figures, besides the Saviour and four angels, and has in the back ground the anomaly of the angels at the sa.me time appearing to the shepherds. It is in oil, and the colours are most of them very pure, except those of the flesh. The garment of Joseph is very rich, being glazed thick with red lake, which is as fresh as if it were new. Almost all the draperies are Sg glazed with different colours, and are still very clear, except the virgin’s, which, instead of maintaining its blue colour, is become a blackish green. There is a want of harmony in the work, but it is more the effect of bad arrangement of the colours than the tones of them. The glory surrounding the heads of the virgin and child is of gold. We have been the more particular in stating these circumstances of this picture, because our readers will naturally be curious to know how far the original inventor of oil painting succeeded in his process, and they will see by this account that he went very far indeed, in what relates to the perfection of the vehicle he used, which, if he had happily been able to employ as well as he understood, the world would not have seen many better painters. He lived to practise his discovery for thirty-one years, dying in 1441, at the advanced age of seventy-one. Although in the preceding sketch we have principally followed the first authority in our references^ it must not remain unnoticed that the learned antiquary, Mr. Raspe, has proved, in the opinion of sir Joshua Reynolds beyond | all contradiction, that the art of painting in oil was invented and practised many ages betbre Van Eyck was born. 1


Rees’s Cyclopædia. Walpole’s Anecdotes. —Descamps, vol. I. Reynolds’s Works, vol. II. 250.