exhibition: Rubens Privé

It is always a pleasure to go to the Rubenshuis in Antwerp. Something about the way Rubens paints, no matter how many times I’ve seen a painting, I feel like I come to it each time with fresh eyes.

A sunny day and a tour of Rubens’ old home and studio is a delightful way to spend any afternoon. There is always something that catches my eye for a sketch. At some point I will write about the permanent collection in detail because there are some very special pieces one can see only there. Every few years the Rubenshuis has a large Expo and this is the first one I attend. Rubens Privé (Rubens in Private) was an exhibition of the master’s drawings and painting of his family. As such there was a feeling of homecoming to the curation.

What I usually will do at an expo like this is I’ll make small thumbnails of things I want to examine closely. I am almost never trying to make anything spectacular, just to capture some aspect which inexplicably draws me to the artwork. I hardly take photos at a show like this. But now I rather wish I had, if only to better remember the drawings which interested me most in the show.

Among the most eyecatching paintings for me was the portrait of his daughter Clara Serena. Should have known that would be a showstopper.


In front of this self-portrait, which I’d never seen before I found myself reminded of Rembrandt’s self-portrait in The Frick Collection. While that one made me cry when I stood in front of it, looking into those eyes, my confrontation with Rubens felt much different, as if he thought with pride of his accomplishments, a life with many highs, but he feels now he can live in splendid repose. I wrote “Rubens cannot make me cry like Rembrandt, but he can make me feel joy like no other.” His paintings are filled with joy, and pain, overwrought, twisting, diving, swirling up to heaven or weighted heavily to the ground. Interestingly he depicts himself all in black. Like Rembrandt he depicts his ageing skin with spectacular effect in great detail layers of paint.


I love how he always paints his first wife, Isabella Brandt with a little knowing smile on her face.

Isabella Brant, ca. 1620-1625