I have a love of the old masters most usually within the Italian renaissance however it is through my research of restoration I discovered and fell in love with Peter Paul Rubens most notably his work at Banqueting house on Whitehall. I was therefore delighted to when I found out about this exhibition.
Art Fund members be warned although you do get a discount here its not great a regular ticket cost £15 art fund ticket is £14. The audio guide is recommended but comes at £4 and unlike some galleries and museums its just audio and not the interactive smart phone gadget ones with pictures. The commentary however was informative and interesting and toned just right not dumbed down or over intellectual.
I can recommend the late evening viewing too. It wasn’t overly crowded easy to move around and I felt no pressure to move on from pictures if I wanted to view them longer, this is not always possible in busy periods.
I will say this you get a lot of exhibition for your buck, 8 large rooms filled with the who’s who’s of the art world some more worthy to be there than others (I will pick that up later on) the rooms were themed Introduction, Poetry, Elegance, Power, Compassion, Violence, Lust and in my opinion a controversial room, La Peregrina: looking to Rubens.
There is one thing I would like to say here and now, for an exhibition entitled with Rubens, I fet that there could have been more of his works and less of the comparison works, at the end of the day Rubens is not an artist who left little or no work compared to some old masters. That however is only a small nit pick.
One of the main reasons I love Titian is his ability to paint and capture the female form, her naked body and her flesh so well feel you could squeeze bottoms and you could feel the skin; like Titian, Ruben also has this ability and sensitivity to the naked female form. I can’t help but think that the old masters, especially Ruben’s and Titian would be shocked at how the female form was portrayed in modern 21st century media all skin and bones.
In one of Rubens best known pieces on display The Garden of Love, 1635 and on Loan from Madrid, Rubens ability to paint flesh can be seen in the 9 Putti or Cherbs in this picture.
Even when his subjects were clothed, Rubens had the ability to make the women look
feminine and beautiful through the juxtaposition of his paintings. And although he was in my mind, particularly skilled at capturing the flesh, he was also very good at adding the small details and capturing the surfaces of complex materials as well. Portrait of a Woman, 1625-30 on loan from Her Majesty the Queen, is an excellent example of this with the details of the woman’s dress and the fabrics involved as well as her ample décolletage, the lace detail to the collar of her dress and the pearls in her hair and at her throat. Rubens influence can be seen in Renoir’s Bather with Long Hair and although the picture of has many of the trade marks of Renoir in its dream like state, the skin and body of the female are influenced by Rubens.
Just as moving was the section that looked at how Rubens crucified Christ influence other artist. I found myself stuck to the ground looking at Christ on the Straw and alter piece in the central panel showing Joseph of Arimathea helping the Virgin Mary and Mary Madeleine with the dead Christ, his pallor blue grey, is echoed on the grieving Madonna. The wound in his side is visible and needs cleaning ahead of burial while his arms are stiff and heavy with death. To the left of this panel is the young Christ looking at what is to come with a reflective Mary and on the right is John the evangelist with his book.
The exhibition is so large that it was hard to choose favourite images. In the Power room you can see on a large screen close details of work commissioned but the Stuarts as well as the French Court. This room also highlights the nomad nature of the life of a great painter moving from city and court patron to patron, was it a lonely existence for these men? Also what amazing people from history Painters like Rubens got to met in Rubens case to name but a few he met Marie Antoinette of France and James I of England.
Another painting that stood out for me is the Tiger, Lion and Leopard Hunt, 1616. It is easy to see why the RA have used it in their advertising as this is such an eye catching painting. Rubens never saw real Tigers Lions or leopards but is said to have had a Tiger skin, to be able to look at a 2D skin and be able to create a tiger as he has in this picture is for me some sort of magic. The painting is exotic with the turbaned hunter the soldiers and the half naked men wrestling the lion in the bottom left of the picture. And just like skin and material the pelts of the animals and the dappling on the rearing stallion in the centre of the picture are breath taking.
The only part of the exhibition I struggled with and was left somewhat cold was entitled La Peregrina: looking to Rubens. In this space were modern pieces of art supposedly influenced by Rubens. If you are going to make that sort of statement then frankly you need to back it up. The pieces in this room had no blurb near them. Not even giving a name of the piece or the artist. One of these pieces was a table with Fried eggs on it. Having been in the rest of the exhibition, I found this room strange and found nothing to convince me that these pieces of contemporary modern art reflected Rubens. I recognised a picasso piece a female breast on a stick, crude and unrealistically pink and grotesque and I really can not see how that could be compared to a sensual female nude by any of the artists in the rest of the exhibition. I would have been more open to it if it had been better explained with the audio guide or even just written explanations near the pieces.
All in all with the exception of the somewhat baffling La Peregrina: looking to Rubens I spent a very enjoyable almost 2 hours with some of the biggest and well know names in art and can highly recommend the exhibition.
For those of you who love a good gift shop, the RA had a nice selection of items and books and I will happily come back to look at them at a later date. I should also say if your there after 4 pm you can access the members room and the food and wine come recommended.