Museum Boijmans leafs through Rubens' sketchbook

Museum Boijmans leafs through Rubens' sketchbook

Luxurious scenes full of muscular men and voluptuous women. Rubens puts the viewer in mind of baroque paintings in which the paint splashes onto the canvas. But from 8 September Museum Boijmans reveals his more intimate side with an exhibition of oil sketches, the largest overview in 65 years.

Pieter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) sketched in oil paint on panel to give his clients an indication of what to expect and show his assistants in his Antwerp studio what he wanted them to flesh out in a larger format.

Approximately 500 of these oil sketches have been preserved, 65 of which are now brought together in the exhibition Pure Rubens at the Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam.

For that we have to thank the collaboration between a curator of old paintings and sculpture, Friso Lammertse, and Alejandro Vergara, curator of Flemish and Northern European art of the Prado in Madrid. The duo have a 15-year track record of research on Rubens and his students. This is the first exhibition entirely devoted to the artist's sketches. Until this summer it was on show in Madrid under the title Rubens, Pintor de bocetos (the sketch painter).

In our 26th English-language yearbook The Low Countries, Alejandro Vergara shows his favourite Rubens from the Prado: Hercules and Cerberus dating back to 1636-37.

Peter Paul Rubens, Triumph of the Church, c. 1625, oil paint on panel, 63.5 x 106 cm. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.


Rubens was the first artist to systematically make oil sketches on panel. He had gained his skills as a youth under painters such as Veronese and Tintoretto during his eight-year stay in Italy. The exhibition shows a number of sketches from his early Italian period which he made for commissions in large churches in Genoa and Fermo.

After his return home to Antwerp, Rubens continued to sketch on panel. By then he had clients from all over Europe, from kings and noblemen to the Church. Rubens insisted on painting the sketches himself, unlike his paintings, which he often left to his assistants.

After his death in 1640 all his sketches were located in his studio. They gained particular popularity among collectors from the nineteenth century on. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen owns one of the largest collections of Rubens sketches. In completing an exhibition based on them, curator Lammertse is realising a long-held dream.

Pure Rubens. From 8 September to 13 January 2019 at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

Top image: Peter Paul Rubens, Psyche taken up to Olympus, c. 1625, oil paint on panel, 64 x 47.8 cm. Liechtenstein, The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Vienna.

Tom Christiaens



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