07 June 2021
This summer, two important paintings by Rubens are reunited at a special exhibition at the Wallace Collection in London. ACE Tour Director Rupert Dickens, an expert in Dutch and Flemish art, and a guide lecturer at the Wallace Collection, explains what makes these pieces – and the opportunity to see them displayed together – so special.
For the first time in over two hundred years, Peter Paul Rubens’s two great masterpieces of landscape painting, The Rainbow Landscape and A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning have been reunited as part of an exhibition at the Wallace Collection in central London.
Painted as a companion pair, these sweeping panoramic views show Rubens’s newly acquired manor house and estate, Het Steen, at Elewijt (between Brussels and Antwerp) as it was in about 1636. They celebrate the fertile countryside of Brabant, and pay homage to the great Flemish tradition of landscape painting.
A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning by Peter Paul Rubens
Rubens purchased his house in the country near the end of his career after giving up his role as a roving diplomat. He lived there for the last five years of his life, revelling in the domestic bliss of family life with his second wife Helena and their young family. He devoted himself to landscape painting purely for his own amusement and these two paintings are the largest and most ambitious in scope and execution.
Examination of the works in preparation for the exhibition has revealed some fascinating details shining light upon Rubens’s technique. He started with central scenes painted on oak panels and then expanded both works by adding more panels above and alongside, so the finished works are a patchwork of multiple panels – a nightmare for later conservators because different rates of expansion can lead to cracks on the surface.
The Great Gallery in the Wallace Collection showing Peter Paul Rubens's Landscape with a Rainbow in 2012.
Initially kept together in Rubens’s own collection, the paintings were brought to London in 1803, and separated for good with The Rainbow Landscape eventually entering the Wallace Collection, and A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning, the National Gallery collection. The National had tried to buy The Rainbow Landscape but had been decisively outbid at auction by the main collector at the Wallace, Lord Hertford, one of the richest men in Europe.
Now they hang facing each other as they would have done at Het Steen, newly cleaned and with matching frames provided by the National Gallery. Visitors have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these works together; to immerse themselves in the sensory delights of Nature, from the luminous glow of the rainbow, to the babbling streams and lowing of the cattle; and to marvel at Rubens’s bravura technique and powers of observation.
The exhibition is in partnership with Visit Flanders. It lasts until 15 August 2021, and is free to visit although booking is essential.
For more information about the exhibition, and associated online talks, see https://www.wallacecollection.org/art/exhibitions-displays/rubens-reuniting-great-landscapes/
Rupert Dickens is leading the ACE tour Flemish Painting: From van Eyck to Rubens in April 2022. Click here for more information.