Pure Rubens


Fig. 1 Peter Paul Rubens, England, Scotland, Minerva, Cupid and Two Victories, c. 1632, Oil on panel, 64.5 x 49 cm, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, inv. 2516

Soon after the death of 17th century Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens several hundred oil sketches were found which had been stored in a workshop used by the painter. Most of these sketches, drawn by Rubens in preparation for larger works, were kept within the workshop during the lifetime of the painter. One might refer to the oil sketches as the ‘secrets of Rubens production.’ These secrets are now for open for the eyes of public at the ‘Pure Rubens’ exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

The oil sketch as conceptual drawings for completed work

In Rubens time it was common practice to make preliminary oil sketches in order to study a theme or reproduce a painting. Rubens’s goals in making these oil sketches however were not merely technical in nature.
Firstly, the oil sketches served as conceptual drawings or ‘modello’ for appraisal to seen by potential clients. Much of Rubens assigned work was large scale – huge paintings or compositions consisting of several paintings. When it comes to such complicated work, which for instance on occasion involved numerous ceiling paintings, an impression of how it would look when finally finished would be desired beforehand by potential customers. In addition, by using the smaller sketches Rubens could make modifications in an earlier stage of production rather than after the completion of the work.

The oil sketch as template

Oil sketches were also used as templates for the production of his paintings. Due to popular demand from all over Europe his work was produced on a massive scale. In Rubens workshop the foundation of his paintings, i.e. the surface, the composition, colour etc. were usually prepared by assistants following a template of the original sketch. The master, who had made the sketch, would then give the paintings the finishing touches by adding detailed expressions. In this way, Rubens managed to efficiently produce many thousands of paintings.
In the exhibition ‘Pure Rubens’, the oil sketches and the final paintings are conveniently displayed for comparison. One can follow the transformation of the first concept to the final painting and appreciate how each completed work is an enlarged version of the oil sketch in composition and colour.

The exhibition ‘Pure Rubens’ reveals the secrets and versatile artistic activity of Rubens. Who, with his enormous influence as a painter in 17th century, achieved fame with his outstanding output in both quality and quantity.

‘Pure Rubens’ can be viewed until 13 January 2019

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Museumpark 18-20
3015 CX Rotterdam
the Netherlands

Opening times:
Tue-Sun 11:00-17:00
5, 24, 31 December 11:00-16:00

Closed on Mondays, 1 January, 27 April and 25 December