Rubens

Hide and Seek with Rubens at The Royal Academy

The Royal Academy's current show attempts to break down the work of Peter Paul Rubens thematically from poetry to violence to lust and everything in between, so I was expecting all senses to be triggered and hoping to see a showcase of the enduring influence of Rubens on Western art. 

I was ready for Rubens' optimism, colour cascades, voluptuous nudes and dreamy classical subjects but instead was faced with a display of Constable’s landscapes, Reynolds' portraits of the wealthy and not much by Rubens. It's tricky to trace Rubens' legacy when his presence is so low key in the display. 

L-R: Rubens: Maria Grimaldi, 1606 and Sir Thomas Lawrence: Mrs Arthur Annesley, 1790

Rubens travelled from Antwerp to Italy at the age of 23 and stayed for eight years, becoming a court painter to the Duke of Mantua who continued to fund his travels. He soaked up inspiration from the Renaissance masters Titian, Tintoretto and Michelangelo among others, who he credited as shaping his artistic style. Despite these influences he's often cricitised for displaying a lack of gravitas in his own work, but there’s something reaffirming about Rubens' sense of optimism particularly in his idyllic mythological scenes where nudes are softly modelled in glowing light and dynamic yet harmonious compositions.

L-R: Rubens: Hermit and Sleeping Angelica, 1626 and van Dyck: Jupiter and Antiope, 1620

Jenny Saville’s curated room with modern allusions to Rubens (from Picasso to Sarah Lucas) did breathe some fresh air. This room finally felt like a celebration of the painter's own impact on art history. Cy Twombly’s Bacchus may owe more to Titian, but it proves the enduring influence of the grand masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and shows a raw and new approach to classicism that continues the painted tradition.

L-R: Francis Bacon: Sleeping Figure, 1959 and Cy Twombly: Bacchus, 2004

Perhaps I'm a bit shallow but I was left wanting more bounty and Bacchanalia … the kind of thing Rubens does best..

L-R: Rubens: Venus Frigida, 1614 and Edouard Manet: Study for 'The Surprised Nymph', 1860