Peter Paul Rubens was one of the most innovative painters in the history of art. His impact on subsequent generations has been immense. For the first time, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, KMSKA), the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and BOZAR in Brussels have joined forces to look at Rubens as a role model. The Sensation and Sensuality: Rubens and His Legacy exhibition brings together some 160 works,
including some iconic paintings by Rubens himself and, more particularly, works by his artistic heirs.
It is a paradox that Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) is both inimitable and has served, for four centuries now, as the great model for painters such as Rembrandt, Murillo, Watteau, Fragonard, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Delacroix, Cézanne, Renoir, Kokoschka, and many others, often far beyond the frontiers of Europe. Even in the work of Picasso, we encounter his visual language. The international exhibition Sensation and Sensuality. Rubens and His Legacy looks at this phenomenon and brings works by these celebrated artists to the world-renowned Flemish master’s homeland.
Sensational and sensual
Many Rubens works are sensational: loud, forceful, and sometimes violent, created in the service of Catholic propaganda and of absolutist rulers. With his almost cinematographic depiction of aggression, fighting, and barbaric scenes, Rubens could be called the Quentin Tarantino of his time. But he is also a sensual painter in his informal family portraits, landscapes and pastoral scenes, peasant dances and gardens of love, in which he was a precursor of rococo, Romanticism, and Impressionism.
Rubens was so many-sided that he appealed to artists of every nationality. Their interest was often selective. Spaniards preferred his religious works. The English were inspired by his portraits and landscapes. French painters were attracted, above all, by the eroticism and poetry in his work. German and Austrian artists admired his vitality and vigour.
A great many talented artists were captivated by his use of composition, colour, and technique and developed flourishing careers by following his example. After meeting Rubens, Velázquez began to paint in a different way; following his counsel, he used a lighter undercoat.
160 works of art, 6 themes
The Sensation and Sensuality exhibition presents more than 160 works of art and takes the visitor through six fascinating themes that explore different aspects of life and of the painter’s art: violence, power, lust, compassion, elegance, and poetry. Each of these chapters demonstrates the links between masterpieces by Rubens and the work of artists who came after him. The Tiger Hunt from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes hangs alongside the Delacroix Lion Hunt from Stockholm and the voluptuous Pan and Syrinx from the Gemäldegalerie in Kassel alongside Boucher’s work of the same name from the National Gallery in London; the Portrait of Marchesa Maria Grimaldi and Her Dwarf from Kingston Lacy is juxtaposed with A Genoese Noblewoman and Her Son from Washington, by Rubens’s famous pupil van Dyck; and Manet’s Rubens pastiche Fishing from the Metropolitan Museum in New York can be seen alongside The Bacchanalia on Andros by Rubens, from the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm.
The 20 paintings, 6 oil sketches, 8 drawings, and 10 prints by Rubens himself are presented in a dialogue with works by his artistic heirs, including Böcklin, Carpeaux, Constable, Corinth, Coypel, Daumier, Delacroix, Fragonard, Gainsborough, Géricault, Jordaens, Klimt, Kokoschka, Le Brun, Makart, Murillo, Picasso, Rembrandt, Renoir, Reynolds, Sandrart, Turner, Watteau, and others.
Exceptionally, one of the jewels of the Prado collection in Madrid, Rubens’s Garden of Love, will travel to Brussels, where it will be brought together with preparatory sketches from the Amsterdam Museum and two drawings that Rubens made of his painting for a superb print (Metropolitan Museum, New York). Bringing these pieces together allows us to see how this famous
composition took shape, from idea to reproduction.
As well as those already mentioned, the major foreign lending institutions contributing include Tate Britain (London), the Neue Pinakothek (Munich), the Nasjonalgalleriet (Oslo), the collection of Queen Elizabeth II, and a number of private collections.