Joseph van Aken moved at a young age from Antwerp to London, where he would develop over thirty years a successful career as a painter of genre scenes and of conversation pieces: these were colourful, small-scale, informal group portraits. He also became the most important drapery painter of the early Georgian period: he painted the attitudes and costumes of figures for many important portrait painters.
About Joseph van Aken
Antwerp probably 1699 – 1749 London
Genre scene and portrait painter.
At the age of approximately twenty van Aken moved circa 1719 from Antwerp to London with his younger brother Alexander (1701 – 1759), who would assist him, and possibly also with his elder brother Arnold (or Arnoldus, who died circa 1735/36).
Many Flemish artists moved to London, where a thriving art market developed: the landscape painter Peter Tillemans in 1708, his brother-in-law the still-life painter Peter Casteels III around 1717, the genre scene painter Peter Angellis circa 1719, the conversation piece specialist Joseph Francis Nollekens in 1733.
In London Joseph van Aken started painting pleasantly animated bourgeois interiors in subdued tonalities, strongly inspired by traditional 17th century Flemish genre scene painting, but above all by contemporary Antwerp masters such as Jan Jozef Horemans I (1682 – 1759). Soon he specialised into an English novelty, conversation pieces: informal, but elegant group portraits in sophisticated colours of families or friends set in a domestic interior or more often in a garden setting. This new type of portrait painting was probably introduced in Britain by Philippe Mercier (1689 – 1760), a German painter whose family was of French Huguenot origin; he had been strongly influenced by the small-scale paintings of Antoine Watteau.
From circa 1735 onwards Joseph van Aken became best known as the top drapery painter of his age. He worked with many of the best and most fashionable portrait painters under King George I and II: Jeremiah Davison (circa 1695 – 1745), Thomas Hudson (1701 – 1779), Allan Ramsay (1713 – 1784) and Henry Pickering (active 1740 – circa 1771). George Vertue (1684-1756) and Horace Walpole (1717 – 1797) described how van Aken was responsible for painting the pose and the clothes, the portraitists completed the face and the hands. Thanks to our painter the influence of Sir Anthony van Dijck and of Sir Peter Paul Rubens on British portrait painting extended into the Georgian era.
Van Aken did not completely abandon working as an independent painter of conversation pieces, but he clearly preferred to paint elegant poses of people wearing costumes and dresses in satin, velvet and gold lace. He was so popular at painting draperies that one day his clients even threatened him if he would work for yet another portrait painter.
Van Aken died around the age of fifty; Thomas Hudson and Allan Ramsay were the joint executors of his will. After his death Joseph’s brother Alexander took over this task as drapery painter for another ten years.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because this ravishing, colourful genre scene set in the English countryside sums up the happiness of early Georgian society among the more leisured classes.