By all accounts Peter Paul Rubens was a remarkable person, not only a hugely successful painter but an intellectual, a collector and a diplomat. In fact history tells us that as well as his hugely successful studio in Antwerp, he played an important role in 17th century European politics and was knighted by both Philip IV, King of Spain, and Charles I, King of England.
Rubens (1577 – 1640) was a Flemish painter who was raised and trained in Antwerp. He is one of those painters that most people know and is most often associated with chubby cherubs and voluptuous nudes. This does him an injustice as he was a versatile painter and his work is hugely diverse. The new exhibition at the Royal Academy is determined to challenge this narrow view of the artist and demonstrate his enormous ability as painter, the breadth of his work and show how his work has influenced both art and artists since his death.
To do this the exhibition takes us on a visual journey that explores Ruben’s influence on other painters by surrounding his paintings with those of other artists. There are works from a huge variety of painters such as Van Dyke, Reynolds, Constable, Cezanne, Delacroix, Picasso, Willem de Kooning and Renoir. The exhibition is organised into six themes: power, lust, compassion, elegance, poetry and violence, with religious paintings, mythological scenes, landscapes, portraits and hunting scenes used to highlight the versatile nature of Rubens talent and his influence on the surrounding artists. The Royal Academy has brought together several well know pieces by Rubens including the Tiger, Lion and Leopard Hunt (1616); Pan and Syrinx (1617); Evening Landscape with Timber Wagon (1630-40) as well as a number of more typical Rubenesque pieces with his classic signature of chubby cherubs and sensual women.
There is also a gallery curated by Jenny Saville RA called La Peregrina, this room looks more closely at Rubens’s influence on modern day art. There are new works by Saville herself and paintings by Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Sarah Lucas, Lucian Freud and more.
It is often said of Rubens that he tends to divide people, they either love his work or hate it and it will probably be the same with this exhibition.