Voluptuous nudes and rather fine ceilings are what spring into my mind when Rubens is mentioned. In fact he was a breaker of artistic moulds and his influence still holds sway today according to the latest blockbuster exhibition at the Royal Academy. Sometimes the theme of Rubens’ legacy is a little strained. In the first room it is not the work of Rubens that greets you but Constable, a less fleshy painter it is hard to imagine, but it turns out that both men painted rainbows as did lots of other men. We are asked to believe that somehow all were influenced by Rubens rather than by the beauty of the rainbows.
I like to come away from any cultural jaunt with at least one new interesting fact. This time the fact was revealed by the painting of Pan and Syrinx. It will come as no surprise to learn that the fleshy nudes are the work of Rubens but the highly detailed background was painted by his friend Jan Breughel the Elder. I’m sure that learned tomes have been written on this friendship but it was news to me and the painting a glorious marriage of precise plants and overflowing flesh.
Six themes are deployed to display the influence that Rubens had on those that followed him. Violence is led by a splendid work entitled ‘Tiger, Lion and Leopard Hunt’, everything seems to be in motion; men wrestle with lions, horses rear and at the centre of it all a tiger seems to be attacking a rider. Only a poor dead leopard doesn’t move. It’s not clear who is winning in the struggle, certainly the tiger looks to have the better of his victim.
There are very few paintings by our hero in the exhibition. If you have time and would like to luxuriate in one of his masterpieces, then after you have finished at the Royal Academy pop down to Whitehall and the Banqueting House. Here you can recline on beanbags whilst taking in the only Rubens ceiling painting to remain in situ.
Refreshment at the Royal Academy can be had in a choice of locations. The Grand Café offers a suitably grand location with rather fine murals looking down on you whilst the Gallery Café lurks in a space carved out next to the lifts and offers a range of sandwiches. Friends of the Royal Academy get two more options, tasty salads in the Friends’ Room or for formal dining The Keeper’s House – it was here that I and two friends enjoyed lunch.
RUBENS AND HIS LEGACY: VAN DYCK TO CEZANNE – 24 January – 10 April 2015
ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD
Open: Sunday – Thursday 10am-6pm, Friday 10am-10pm, Saturday 10am-8pm
Admission: Adults £15, under 16’s go free.