Rubens and his Legacy: Van Dyck to Cezanne
24 January – 10 April 2015
Exploring the extraordinary legacy of one of the most influential painters in history.
Known as the 'prince of painters', Peter Paul Rubens was considered one of the most accomplished artists of his time. His list of patrons comprised some of the most important families in Europe, including members of the royal family, the aristocracy and the church. But it was not just Rubens' contemporaries who admired his lively realism and rich brushwork; the artist's influence can be seen in works created by Manet, Cézanne, Klimt, Picasso, as much as 300 years later.
It is this remarkable legacy that the Royal Academy's exhibition sets out to explore. On display are over 160 pieces by both the artist and the subsequent generations of artists whose work resonates in some way with the master painter. Rather than following chronology, the display links Rubens with his successors through theme – such as poetry, power, lust, elegance, compassion and violence.
While Rubens is perhaps best known for his fleshy, sensuous depictions of women – known in themselves as Rubenesque – the show reveals the artist to be far more versatile; altarpieces, family portraits, landscapes and mythological scenes all feature as examples of his output. These are shown alongside rural scenes captured by Turner and Gainsborough, portraits by Van Dyck and religious allegories by Murillo and Delacroix.
Like Rubens, nudes were a central theme for Cézanne and he made over 200 paintings exploring the male and female figure. Featured here is one of a group of observational paintings he made of bathers – considered among the French artist's finest work.
This Rubebesque series is said to have, in turn, been a great source of inspiration for the cubists. In fact Henri Matisse was so moved by one of Cézanne's bathers paintings he decided to buy it, despite not being able to afford the 1,200 francs cost. He was instead made to sign a promissory note and paid off the debt in installments.