Art Day Part I: Feeling All The Feelings At ‘Rubens And His Legacy’

Yesterday was, without a doubt, one of the best Art Days of my life. I cannot possibly confine it all to one post, so here is Part I for starters.

I began my morning at the Royal Academy of Arts for their retrospective ‘Rubens and His Legacy,’ an exhibition showcasing the work of Peter Paul Rubens alongside other artists who were influenced by him, from Delacroix to Picasso to Twombly.

To be perfectly honest, I expected to breeze in and out of the place – admire the paintings briefly, snap a few cheeky photos and leave. My time assessment couldn’t have been more wrong however, for instead I wandered through the exhibition three full times through, stopping to watch the video, read every word of information on the walls and even sit on the leather benches in the various galleries staring in awe at the works before me, taking them in, trying desperately to create a memory of what I saw.

What feeling, what detail – lush, erotic, rich, violent, alive, cinematic – I was feeling all the feelings. The eyes of the tiger slain with a spear in Tiger, Lion and Leopard Hunt looked like the life had just gone out of them mere seconds before, the horse’s tail so much the proper texture that I swore if I reached out and touched the painting I’d feel hair. Even the cellulite on Rubens’ buxom nudes was exactly right, the dimpling more familiar than I’d care to admit.

'Tiger, Lion & Leopard Hunt,' Peter Paul Rubens, Oil on Canvas, 1617
‘Tiger, Lion & Leopard Hunt,’ Peter Paul Rubens, Oil on Canvas, 1617

The show is divided into six sections, Poetry (mostly landscapes), Elegance (court portraits), Power (propaganda art), Compassion (religious art), Violence (mythology, biblical themes, animal hunts) and Lust (nudes, mythology). This was brilliant on the part of the RA for the viewer is forced to distinguish between all the different sides of Rubens, to really feel his enormous range.

And what range! Even the sketches seem to have blood surging through them.

image (3)
‘Sketch for a Lion Hunt,’ Peter Paul Rubens, Oil on Panel, 1621

For a brief moment, I scowled at anything that came before or after because quite frankly, having seen this perfection how could anything else even deserve to be called Art? As insane as that now sounds looking back, that’s exactly how I felt, like I was surrounded by art at its’ very best. And of course I was, even if there are other bests too.

And many of these bests were in fact on view! Interspersed with the Rubens are works by other artists influenced by his almighty talent. They are all quite beautiful though my favourite is a Picasso called Faun Uncovering A Sleeping Woman.

Faun Uncovering A Sleeping Woman, Pablo Picasso, Aquatint & Engraving, 1936
‘Faun Uncovering A Sleeping Woman,’ Pablo Picasso, Aquatint & Engraving, 1936

An anteroom off the final gallery showcases a diverse collection curated by Jenny Saville called ‘La Peregrina: Looking to Rubens.’ The art on view, which ranges from Saville herself to Warhol, Twombly and Bacon among others, is meant to be a selection of modern and contemporary works that connect with Rubens. While in certain pieces I found it hard to decipher this connection, it was still my most loved room of the show. It brought me back to the present, with a welcome reminder of how, if we let it, our present can be moulded by the best of our past.

'Voice of the Shuttle (Philomela),' Jenny Saville, Charcoal and Pastel on Canvas, 2014-15
‘Voice of the Shuttle (Philomela),’ Jenny Saville, Charcoal and Pastel on Canvas, 2014-15
'The Woman and His Model,' Pablo Picasso, Oil on Canvas, 1963
‘The Woman and His Model,’ Pablo Picasso, Oil on Canvas, 1963

– India Irving

‘Rubens and His Legacy’ is on view at the Royal Academy of Arts until 10 April 2015; Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD; Open Daily 10AM-6PM (10PM Fridays, 8PM Saturdays); Admission: £15 (Under 16’s & Friends of the RA, FREE)

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