phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Advertisement

Rubens and His Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne

23 January 2015 Nicky Charlish

The latest blockbuster from the Royal Academy of Arts features Rubens and his legacy of artists from Van Dyck to Cézanne

If Rubens were alive today, it’s a fair certainty that he’d be doing promotional art for the likes of Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian. He is best known for his paintings of fleshy women, and ‘Rubenesque’ females – arguably – were his generation’s equivalent of modern pop and celebrity culture’s ‘bootylicious’ stars. And, for the rich and famous of his time, he was the go-to artist for producing the most professional, exuberant work possible. But there is much more to his work than the female form – and personal fame. Other painters learnt from him, and this exhibition is the first major one in the UK to examine his influence on the output of subsequent artists.

But how did has career start? Born in 1577 into a middle class family at Siegen in Westphalia (now part of Germany), Peter Paul Rubens – following his father’s death – moved to Antwerp in the Southern Netherlands. Here he received artistic training, which was reinforced by a journey to Italy where he saw works by Renaissance masters such as Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Tintoretto, Mantegna and Veronese. He got lucky by securing the patronage of Vincenzo Gonzaga, the Duke of Mantua, who commissioned work from him and supported his travels.   Returning to Antwerp, Rubens was appointed court painter to Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, who governed the Spanish-controlled Southern Netherlands. He had a staff of assistants, with the young Anthony van Dyck being his most famous pupil and the artists Jacob Jordaens and Frans Snyders working for him. Antwerp was affluent – merchants were amassing private art collections, and churches were being refurbished. This meant more work for Rubens, who could now pick and choose his clientele.  After the death of his wife, Isabella, he raised his profile by diplomatic visits to Spain in 1628 and, the following year, England on behalf of the Netherlands (during his English visit he was knighted by Charles 1, for whom he completed the ceiling of the Banqueting House in Whitehall in 1635). He is, possibly, the artist with the most powerful political profile that the art world has produced. After a career spanning some 40 years, he died in 1640.

It’s easy – but simplistic – to think that Rubens achieved success through being in the right place at the right time. Patronage can help, but it only gets an artist so far along the road to success. Talent is necessary, too. And its possession was his major gift, combined with the ability to work hard (at the time of his death he was at work on a scheme of decoration for the Torre de la Parada, commissioned by Philip IV of Spain). His in-depth knowledge of Renaissance art enabled him to develop his own style, combining powerful realism with lavish brushwork, giving an almost liquid feel to the work. He also had the expertise to work in different genres: family portraits, landscapes, Biblical, historical and mythological themes, and altarpieces – he could produce them all, giving them a sense of scale, grandeur and action. He also made tapestries.

So, with this powerful combination of talent and fame, it’s unsurprising that Rubens became an inspiration for later generations of artists. As Dr Nico Van Hout, from Antwerp’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts and one of the exhibition’s curators, says: ‘It is no coincidence that Delacroix, Vigée-Lebrun,  Reynolds and Renoir devoted fascinating discourses, journal entries and letters on the virtuosity and confidence of Rubens’ brushwork, as many artists were trained seriously by 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.’

There is plenty of material in this exhibition from which we can judge for ourselves the influence that Rubens had not only on his contemporaries, but on the generations of artists who came after him. The exhibition is arranged around the themes of Poetry, Elegance, Power, Lust, Compassion and Violence, with each one linking Rubens’ work in its particular field to that of following generations of artists. Here are some examples of what’s in store. Poetry includes Rubens’ ‘The Garden of Love’ (c.1633) which is exhibited alongside such works as ‘Cottage at East Bergholt’(c.1833) by Constable and ‘The Forest of Bere (Petworth)’ (1808) by Turner.  Elegance features ‘Marchesa Maria Grimaldi and her Dwarf’ (c.1607) by Rubens, and ‘Young Woman with Dog’(c.1769) by Fragonard.  Lust includes Rubens’ ‘Venus Frigida’ (1614) Picasso’s ‘Faun Uncovering a Sleeping Woman’(1936), and works by Manet and Daumier. Compassion includes ‘The Conversion of St. Paul’ (1675-82) by Murillo, whilst Violence features, among other items, Rubens’ ‘The Tiger Hunt’ (1616) and Delacroix’s ‘The Lion Hunt’ (1858). Some might feel that this thematic method of selection shows a simplistic, join-the-dots approach to art history, but it seems the best way to examine the subject of Rubens and his influence on later artists.

Some may damn this exhibition with faint praise by calling it a blockbuster.  But this array of art leads us to deeper considerations. Rubens became the greatest Northern exponent of the Baroque, whilst the prodigious shadow of his style continues to hold sway today – as we see from the works in this exhibition.  From it, we not only have a chance to appreciate the work of Rubens and other artists, but also to see, remember and think about, how work that may seem bound by time and place can be seen, and expressed, afresh by succeeding generations.

The exhibition runs from 24 January-10 April
For further information, including admission and tickets, see their website

{ad-placement-MPU1}

Most popular

What to See at The Cinema

What to See at The Cinema

Your go-to guide to what's on the silver screen
Advertisement
Top 5 Bars and Restaurants for Shisha-Lovers

Top 5 Bars and Restaurants for Shisha-Lovers

The five finest spots in London to shoot the breeze and pass the pipe
Advertisement
The Best Riverside Walks In London

The Best Riverside Walks In London

Oh we do like to be beside the canalside...
Advertisement
A Guide to the Best Lidos in London

A Guide to the Best Lidos in London

Looking to beat the heat or enjoy some fun in the sun? Here are our top 5 London lidos to enjoy this summer.
Advertisement
Top Theatre of the Week

Top Theatre of the Week

Where to get the best of new theatre openings in London
Top Exhibitions of the Week

Top Exhibitions of the Week

The place to come for all the best current exhibitions in London...
London’s Must-See Flower Shows in 2019

London’s Must-See Flower Shows in 2019

With the balmy weather here to stay, why not take in the sumptuous beauty that these London flower shows have to offer
Top Gigs of the Week

Top Gigs of the Week

From underground indie to rap stars to house legends, we've got you covered...
Where to Eat: Desserts in East London

Where to Eat: Desserts in East London

Even if the Easter bunny doesn’t visit your garden this month, there are plenty of ways to get your sweet fix this springtime

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!

Advertisement