Rubens and his Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne

The seventeenth century Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens lived a very remarkable and interesting life, and was, all at once, a hugely successful and captivating artist and important diplomat, whose efforts across both disciplines (art and politics) proved to be hugely influential. He was also fluent in six languages, as if being bilingual was not enough.
It is his influence on the world of art that is the subject of the Royal Academy of Arts’ latest major exhibition. Rubens and his Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne looks at how the likes of the two artists cited in the title of the show (the former a pupil of Rubens), as well as countless others many, many generations down the line, were, in one way or another, affected by the energetic painter.
Although he remains best remembered for his “fleshy, sensuous ‘Rubenesque’ nude women”, as the Royal Academy of Arts puts it, the exhibition offers a wider analysis that seeks to illustrate the “breadth of his accomplishment”. For that reason, the show has been divided into six themes: poetry, elegance, power, lust, compassion and violence.
Under each of these categories, the work of the painter is connected to other, equally significant artists, including Francois Boucher and Jean-Antoine Watteau (1700s), Eugene Delacroix, John Constable, Edouard Manet and Honoré Daumierin (1800s), and, even so far from Rubens’ death, Pablo Picasso in the twentieth century.
“It is no coincidence that Delacroix, Vigée-Lebrun, Reynolds and Renoir devoted fascinating discourses, journal entries and letters on the virtuosity and confidence of Rubens’ brushwork, as many artists were trained by seriously studying his altarpieces, allegories, portraits and landscapes,” said Dr Nico Van Hout, curator of this exhibition and an expert on Rubens.
“Each artist focused on different aspects of his oeuvre and the works in this exhibition show the great variety of this impact: they include exact copies, creative copies, pastiches and quotations to works that only echo Rubens’ style.
“Only the best artists were able to translate Rubens’ visual language into a personal idiom and we are delighted to bring together such a rich selection of works to showcase the ongoing strength of Rubens’ legacy throughout the past three centuries.”
The exhibition has received mix reviews, with the Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones saying that any serious examination of Rubens’ legacy needs to begin with a thorough examination of those who influenced him.
He says the theory behind it is “simplistic”, one that smashes “as much evidence as it can into its rigid, shortsighted argument that Rubens is the fons et origo of almost everything painters have ever done”.
Meanwhile, his counterpart at the Telegraph, Mark Hudson, is full of praise, describing the exhibition as “fascinating” for its ability to explicate neatly how powerful an artist Rubens has been over the last four centuries.
He says: “You’re left wanting to see a lot more of this extraordinary artist, and the good news is that there’s a vast amount more of that life-enhancing physicality and sensuality out there to be experienced.”
Judge for yourself. Rubens and his Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne at the Royal Academy of Arts in London runs until April 10th 2015.
Cadogan Tate specialises in delivering tailored fine art storage solutions.