My parents left London on Easter Sunday and I spent Easter Monday seeing some exhibitions. I began at the Royal Academy, with Reubens and His Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne.
The artist Peter Paul Reubens (1577-1640) was often called the “Homer of Painting”. He has been described as the most inimitable and influential painter of the Low Countries, influencing different generations and nationalities of painters over the years. The exhibition has been organised by theme.
The first section looks at the natural landscapes inherent in Reubens’ work and how it impacted other artists. Reubens studied natural landscapes on his estate, resulting in pictures including the Landscape with Rainbows (c. 1630) and the Evening Landscape with Timber Wagon (1630-40), which can be said to have influenced J.M.W. Turner’s The Forest of Bere (1808). Reuben also influenced British artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable.
The Garden of Love
While landscapes inspired British artists, Reubens’ lyrical exoticism, evident in works such as The Garden of Love (c. 1635), struck a particular chord with early eighteenth century French artists. Jean-Antoine Watteau’s La Surprise (1718-19) drew inspiration from the earlier artist’s Château in a Park (c. 1632-35).
Reubens’ portraits of Genoese high society in Italy, such as his Portrait of a Woman (c. 1625-30), impressed Anthony van Dyck and inspired painters such as Joshua Reynolds, Gainsborough and Sir Thomas Lawrence, whose Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (1824) shows Reubens’ influence.
Reubens worked as a propagandist and diplomat at courts through his art, including his Cycle for Marie de Médicis (1621): he painted two series of twenty-four paintings for the galleries at her new residence. He also worked on the ceiling of the Banqueting House in London. His work inspired The Triumph of Apollo, a ceiling decoration at the Louvre painted by Eugène Delacroix.
Reubens is best known in Belgium as a religious painter, with altarpieces in Flemish and northern French churches. This aspect of his work was popular with Spanish painters, and some, which was displayed in the Louvre, inspired Romantic art such as the Sketch After Descent from the Cross (1766-69) and copies by the likes of Delacroix and Van Gogh. Claudio Coello’s Virgin and Child Adored by St Louis, King of France (1665-68) was influenced by Reubens’ Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints. The earlier painter’s St Cecilia (1620), showing the saint playing an organ, inspired Gustav Klimt’s St Cecilia (1885).
A different side of Reubens can be seen in the works that demonstrate horror and atrocity, including some gruesome details, not least scenes of people descending into Hell and the abduction of women, which frequently inspired the Romantics. Reubens’ The Fall of the Damned (1620) inspired Charles Le Brun’s The Fall of the Angels (1685), while his The Battle of the Amazons (1617-18) inspired Arnold Böcklin’s The Battle on the Bridge (1892).
The final section of the exhibition was about lust. Reubens is probably best known for his buxom nudes, such as his work with Jan Breughel the Elder, Pan and Syrinx (c. 1617). While I can definitely see the point of those who say his pictures can be sexist, I can also appreciate the quality of his work, which influenced paintings such as Paul Cézanne’s The Bathers (c. 1875) and Auguste Renoir’s Bather with Long Hair (c. 1895).
Overall, I found this to be an interesting exhibition and I did learn a lot. It emphasised the extent of Reubens’ influence over other artists and left me more aware of his impact.