Rubens and His Legacy : Van Dyck to Cézanne

On visiting Rubens and his Legacy at the Royal Academy of Arts, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and emotion of the collection. Peter Paul Rubens was an extremely talented, unique and influential Flemish Baroque artist. His prominence was recognised by other artists in northern Europe during the 17th century, and to this day he still has a huge influence on many contemporary artists.

I found it extremely impressive to see how vast the breadth of Rubens’ works is. The collection was divided into the separate focuses of Power, Violence, Compassion, Lust, Elegance and Poetry. There was so much variety displayed, from mythology and religion, to aggressive assaults, rape and eroticism, as well as elegant portraits and poetic landscapes. Artists that have been influenced by him were also exhibited within these themes, allowing us to gain insight into how Rubens has inspired so much of subsequent art. Overall, the exhibition was absolutely incredible with much too much for me to talk about, therefore, I will briefly highlight a couple of the themes I found most enthralling.

Mounted against royal teal walls and framed with intricately ornate gold frames, an imposing grandeur of majestic portraits welcomed the theme of Elegance. Portraits were becoming fashionable amongst affluent society during the Baroque period of the 17th century and Rubens’ skills were in high demand. He was sometimes referred to as ‘prince of painters and painter of princes’ as a result of these illustrious portraits. With paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Anthony van Dyck as well as Rubens, this room radiates with sophistication and style. The magnificent grace and beauty of the Rococo style is also well celebrated by these paintings as the distinguished subjects are adorned with decorative and elaborate jewels and fashion. It was a very beautiful section of the collection.

The best theme for me was Poetry, featuring exquisite paintings of heavenly and idyllic natural landscapes that were so completely immersive that they instantly brought on a euphoric state of calm and awe. Many British painters such as Thomas Gainsborough, JMW Turner, and John Constable have been heavily influenced by Rubens’ poetic painterly style and idealistic portrayal of nature’s phenomena. Landscape paintings from the Late Baroque, Rococo and Romantic periods by these artists that were featured in this initial room are my absolute favourite. For me, the most captivating painting in this room, which no reproduction can ever do justice to, was Turner’s The Forest of Bere. The expressiveness of the brushstrokes, composition, colour and lighting are perfectly harmonious, creating movement and vivacity within the rustic settings. There is a warm richness of colour and tranquillity in the scene making it irresistible to tear your eyes away.

This exhibition is on at the Royal Academy of Arts until 10th April and is well worth a visit. Make sure you allow at least a good three hours or so to have enough time to look round it all, as there is quite a lot to see!

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