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Overview

Situated against a rocky background with a bust of Mercury rising prominently behind them, four boys of varying ages are grouped close together, each gazing in a different direction. Fashionably dressed in silk or velvet garments, with one child even sporting a double gold chain across a shoulder, the boys apparently come from the upper echelon of society.

This painting of children from an unidentified family is a partial copy of a portrait by Anthony van Dyck now in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Not depicted in the Gallery's painting are the boys' three sisters. The boys' costumes and hairstyles indicate that Van Dyck painted the original group portrait while in England. The circumstances that led to the creation of a partial copy by an unidentified follower of Van Dyck are also unknown. It is possible that the owners of Van Dyck's original group portrait commissioned the copy for a family member or close relative. The prominent bust of Mercury situated ominously in the background may suggest that the children were orphans. Among his many attributes, Mercury was the conductor of the souls of the dead, which may account for the boys' rather somber expressions and the absence of parents in either the original or this partial copy.

Provenance

The Rev. Dr. William Ash, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.[1] William R. Timken [1866-1949], New York; by inheritance to his widow, Lillian Guyer Timken [1881-1959], New York; bequest 1960 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1967
Loan for display with permanent collection, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, 1967-1971.
Bibliography
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 48, as School of van Dyck.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 41, repro., as School of van Dyck.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 122, repro., as School of van Dyck.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 148, repro.
2005
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 100-102, color repro.