The Royal Academy of Arts presents the first major exhibition in the UK to examine Rubens’ influence on art history. Rubens and His Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne is an exploration of the artistic legacy of Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), the most influential of Flemish painters. The exhibition brings together masterpieces by Rubens and the artists who were inspired by him during his lifetime and up until the twentieth century, including Van Dyck, Watteau, Turner and Delacroix, as well as Manet, Cézanne, Renoir, Klimt and Picasso. Rubens and His Legacy presents over 130 works, comprising paintings, drawings and prints drawn from some of the finest collections world-wide.
One of the most prolific and sought-after artists of his day, Rubens had an international list of patrons that included members of some of the most important royal families in Europe, the aristocracy and the Church. With an in-depth knowledge of Renaissance art, Rubens drew on his studies of the Italian Masters to develop his own style of lively realism and rich brushwork, creating monumental and dynamic paintings. His great versatility and immense capacity to produce work meant that his creative output encompassed every genre of painting: altarpieces, family portraits, landscapes and historical and mythological scenes. Whilst Rubens is most renowned for the depiction of his fleshy, sensuous “Rubenesque” women, the exhibition will illustrate the breadth of his accomplishment and present an artist whose visual language, from composition to theme, style and colour, impacted on artists at the time and has had continued resonance for artists throughout the centuries following his death.
Rubens and His Legacy is presented through six themes: Poetry, Elegance, Power, Lust, Compassion and Violence. Each theme links the work of Rubens to subsequent generations of great artists; starting with his assistant Van Dyck and ranging from Boucher and Watteau in the eighteenth century; Delacroix, Constable, Manet and Daumier in the nineteenth; to Cézanne and Picasso 300 years after the Flemish master’s death.
Where Poetry is the main theme, landscapes and bucolic scenes by Rubens such as The Garden of Love, c.1633, are displayed alongside paintings including The Harvest Wagon, c.1784 by Gainsborough, Cottage at East Bergholt, c.1833 by Constable and The Forest of Bere (Petworth), 1808 by Turner. A series of portraits are presented within the theme of Elegance, including Marchesa Maria Grimaldi and her Dwarf, c.1607 by Rubens, A Genoese Noblewoman and Her Son, c.1626 by Van Dyck and Young Woman with Dog, c.1769 by Fragonard. The section on Power comprises history paintings by Le Brun and Jordaens, including Triumph of Frederik Henry, c.1650-51, as well as works by Latour, Thornhill and Verrio. Rubens’ Venus Frigida, 1614, Cézanne’s Three Bathers, 1875 and Picasso’s Faun Uncovering a Sleeping Woman, 1936 are represented in the section on Lust, as well as works by Manet, Daumier and Renoir. A selection of prints and paintings examining religious themes including Coello’s Virgin and Child Adored by St Louis, King of France, 1665-68, The Conversion of St. Paul, 1675-82 by Murillo and Crucifixion, 1846 by Delacroix are on display in the galleries that examine the theme of Compassion. The theme of Violence brings together tumultuous hunting scenes such as The Tiger Hunt, 1616 by Rubens and Delacroix’s The Lion Hunt, 1858.
Dr Nico Van Hout, curator of the exhibition said, “It is no coincidence that Delacroix, Vigée-Lebrun, Reynolds and Renoir devoted fascinating discourses, journal entries and letters to the virtuosity and confidence of Rubens’ brushwork, as many artists were trained by seriously studying his altarpieces, allegories, portraits and landscapes. Each artist focused on different aspects of his oeuvre and the works in this exhibition show the great variety of this impact: they include exact copies, creative copies, pastiches and quotations to works that only echo Rubens’ style. Only the best artists were able to translate Rubens’ visual language into a personal idiom and we are delighted to bring together such a rich selection of works to showcase the ongoing strength of Rubens’ legacy throughout the past three centuries.”
Peter Paul Rubens was born in Siegen in Westphalia (now Germany) in 1577 into a middle-class family. Following his father's death in 1587, the family moved to Antwerp, in the Southern Netherlands, where Rubens received an education and artistic training, serving as an apprentice to several established artists. In 1600, Rubens travelled to Italy, where he saw paintings by Renaissance Masters including Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Tintoretto, Mantegna and Veronese. Rubens’ patron in Italy was the Duke of Mantua, Vincenzo Gonzaga, who commissioned works and also financially supported his travels, although Rubens was able to accept works by other patrons. Rubens returned to Antwerp in 1608, where he married Isabella Brant and established his own studio with a staff of assistants. His most famous pupil was the young Anthony Van Dyck, who soon became the leading Flemish portraitist and collaborated frequently with Rubens. Soon after his return to Antwerp, Rubens was appointed court painter to Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, who governed the Spanish controlled Southern Netherlands, and he was also considered an ambassador and diplomat.
In a time of social and economic recovery after war, Antwerp's affluent merchants were building their private art collections and refurbished churches with new art. As a result, Rubens was able to accept commissions from whomever he chose. Following the death of his wife, Isabella, in 1626, Rubens travelled for several years, combining his artistic career with diplomatic visits to Spain and England on behalf of the Netherlands. When he returned to Antwerp five years later, he married his second wife, Hélène Fourment, who inspired many of the voluptuous figures of his paintings in the 1630s and although major works for international patrons still occupied him, Rubens also explored more personal artistic directions. After a prolific career spanning forty years, Rubens died of heart failure on 30 May 1640 and was interred in Saint Jacob's church, Antwerp.