Friday, April 17, 2009

Exhibition review: From Bruegel to Rubens - Masters of Flemish Painting

We're approaching the last week of the exhibition of Brueghal to Rubens which comprises paintings by the Flemish Masters in the Royal Collection. The exhibition is at The Queens Gallery at Buckingham Palace and finishes on 26th April.

It contains 51 Flemish paintings from the Royal Collection created during the 15th to 17th centuries. Artists featured include Hans Memling, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Jan Brueghel, Van Dyck and Rubens.
By the 1550s the Netherlands enjoyed a level of wealth that remained unmatched in the West for centuries. The Eighty Years War with Spain, from 1568 to 1648, all but destroyed the region’s infrastructure and creative industries. The paintings in the exhibition were produced in the Southern (Spanish-ruled) Netherlands during this period of extraordinary turbulence and its immediate aftermath, when peace was finally restored to the region.
I went to see the exhibition yesterday and it has made me want to know a lot more about Flemish painting.

Surprises for me included:
  • what happened to the orginal content of the Breugel painting "Massacre of the Innocents" - (which I'll comment on further below)
  • the practice of artists combining to create paintings
  • the fact that Rubens painted very large panoramic landscapes as well as rather large ladies!
This exhibition amply demonstrated why so many contemporary artists look back to the Flemish as well as the Dutch masters for their inspiration as to design and quality of finish. The portraits (1500-1555) in particular have an almost luminous quality as well as a super fine finish and the colours appear to be in an excellent state of preservation.

The exhibition has a microsite on the Royal Collection website. This isn't the best signposted microsites I've seen. I'm wondering how many other people haven't realised that if you click on one of the picture icons it will reveal paintings from the exhibition according to one of the historical time periods. These are:
It also doesn't say that if you click on an image you can see a larger version, and then another zoomable version plus a short audio guide. Jutst keep clicking on images if you don't want to avoid anything!

Here are the paintings which have stayed with me since leaving the exhibition:
  • Desiderius Erasmus 1517 Quinten Massys (1464/5-1530) - a painting of Erasmus working in his study. Realism at its most intense.
  • Massacre of the Innocents 1565-7 Pieter Bruegel the Elder (fl.1551-69) In this painting, the original paintings of the children have been painted out and animals substituted. Click the image to hear Desmond Shawe Taylor, the Keeper of the Queen's Pictures explain the painting.
  • Boy at a window c.1550-60 Flemish School, 16th century. The design is almost contemporary except these visal conceits are typical of that period. The painting persuades you that it is the window on which the boy is tapping
  • A festival with dancing peasants on a country road 1600 Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625). This painting is remarkable for the elements of miniature art within a large painting including infinitesimally small people.
  • Cabinet of a collector 1617 Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642). Whenever I think of art from this era and this area I think of still life. This is a painting for a collector of a collection.
  • Summer: Peasants going to market c.1618 Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Studio. I've never really associated Rubens with large Breughel type panoramas and this one was a complete surprise. I kept expecting a buxom lady to appear sitting on a cloud! Apparently there is a name for this type of painting which is Weltlandschaft or "world landscape"
  • Two paintings by Daniel Seghers (1590-1661) of a type I've not seen much before. A cartouche embellished with a garland of flowers 1640s and A relief embellished with a garland of roses 1640. The flower garland surrounding a scene or a portrait was apparently introduced originally by Bruegel. Seghers specialised in painting such flower garlands.
  • Plus I loved all the paintings of vegetables! It was turnip and cabbage painting heaven!
There were also a number of paintings involving animals and wildlife which were fascinating . I hadn't realised quite how much wildlife was familiar to Flemish artists in this period. (See Lions in a Landscape; Adam and Eve in the Garden of Ede and Landscape with birds - click each image to see a much larger version with zoom facilities)

I didn't know much about the history of the provinces of the Low Countries before, nor the extent to which the area was ruled by Habsburg Spain (the Habsburg chin crops up yet again in the portrait of Emperor Charles V). However I'm going to enjoy finding out more in the very reasonably priced catalogue for the exhibition (see Making a Mark reviews...... for a review of the catalogue Book Review: From Breughal to Rubens).

1 comment:

Robyn said...

I've now enjoyed a couple of cyber visits to this excellent exhibition site, many thanks Katherine.

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