Sixteenth Approach to Het Steen 1636

To the Wallace Collection to see Rubens’ Landscape with a Rainbow’ , 1636.

Peter Paul Rubens: 'Landscape with a Rainbow', 1636. Oil on Panel. The Wallace Collection, London

the companion to Het Steen. It is much less finished, look at the way the yellow blocking between the legs of the cart horses on the left has entirely covered the second horse, it has not been corrected; Rubens never got round to it. Underpainting and drawing clearly showing through.

Strong diagonal from middle right across the ground plane towards the centre. A surprisingly incoherent composition, not quite clear where the central pond begins or ends. It is in the centre of the painting, but is just a vague hole.

Very little accuracy in the trees, oak like, but without the precision of the birches and the oak in the Steen foreground. In the left mid-ground of Rainbow there is a vaguely birch like copse, some clarity in the background recession.

Carefully painted cattle and ducks, brown foreground, green mid, blue background seen from a slightly elevated viewpoint but not as high as Steen. Without the house we have less of the arrogance,, or showing off, that characterises Steen. Rainbow is far more of a genre painting about countryside activities i.e. Haymaking, bringing in the cattle, no doubt killing the ducks; activities in the Brabant. The ground plane rises relatively steeply from below our feet to a midpoint at the grown out hedgerow.

Is the rainbow a sign of the covenant, God will not break his promise? A sign of peace (relevant of course to Rubens own position), look at the way our eye is drawn from the dark right towards the brighter left. Is the rainbow a symbolic form in common with the genre figures?

In the National Gallery in front of Het Steen

Peter Paul Rubens: 'A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning', 1636. Oil on Oak. Oil on oak.131 x 229.cm. National Gallery, London

There is perhaps a compositional similarity between Steen and Rainbow, in that both have a dark diagonally composed foreground element in roughly the same place; a standard Flemish landscape component after all. The Rainbow haystack corresponds approximately with the position of the house, but only just; positions of plenty?

Looking again at the Steen foreground clump of trees, might that dominant tree on the left be a pine rather than an oak? Native pine has lower branches that come out at a 45 degree angle, in oaks they tend to be higher up and at 90 degrees to the trunk. But, it can’t be, the leaves are bulging groups of flora, not short dark needles at all.

The Rainbow figures owe more to The Watering Place, 1622

Peter Paul Rubens: 'The Watering Place', 1622. Oil on Panel, The National Gallery, London

than they do to Het Steen. The Watering Place is on the opposite wall to het Steen, it is a far more finished painting than either of the two later works. Specimen pollarded willows, edged with dark glazes and trembling waves of Italianate leaves on Northern European tree trunks. Bruegel like rocks and tree formations, elevated viewpoint and the usual colour division to the composition. Genre figures including peasant with brass pitcher on head and shepherd playing flute under the tree (lots of references to Virgil: Tityrus lying under a spreading beech wooing the muse on a slender reed etc) None of that obviousness in Steen, which is an ostensibly contemporary scene in which the season is established as much through light and colour as through content. Autumn, ie harvest time, is established by content and activity rather than through depiction and observation.

It is toward the end of the day in the National Gallery. Sino-Italian day by the look of it: elegant; elderly; attenuated Italian couples and younger, plumper Chinese family groups. The elderly Italian man next to me on the bench, in light brown wool jacket, grey trousers, slip on brown leather shoes, light smell of woody eau de toilette, has been asleep on the corner seat of the bench the whole time I have been here. The colour of his jacket almost exactly matches the bottom right glazing over the underpainting of Het Steen. A woman, in folds of fine grey wool, with tumbling hair full of gold highlights and gold necklaces, re-appears to wake him up; lots of whispered Italian. Is gold an autumnal colour?

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1 comment
  1. Hi Mark good to see you,
    I’ve only given this a very cursery look but I’m already fascinated I’m sending Rosamund a link.
    I’m planning on Mr Richter Saturday night (if not too knackered)
    see you all son I hope
    Love Clarexx

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