Rubens: The Spiritual Father of Botero

Exhibition: Rubens. The Power of Transformation

Date: Feb 8 − May 28, 2018

Venue: Stadel Museum

Bacchus, 1638-1640. Oil on canvas, 191 x 161.3 cm. The State Hermitage Museum , St Petersburg.

The Life and Works of Peter Paul Rubens

The name of the great 17th century Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens is known throughout the world. The importance of his contribution to the development of European culture is generally recognised. The perception of life that he revealed in his pictures is so vivid, and fundamental human values are affirmed in them with such force, that we look upon Rubens’ paintings as a living aesthetic reality of our own time as well.

Saint George Battles the Dragon, c. 1607. Oil on canvas, 309 x 257 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado , Madrid.

The museums of Russia have a superb collection of the great Flemish painter’s works. These are concentrated, for the most part, in The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, which possesses one of the finest Rubens’ collections in the world. Three works, previously part of the Hermitage collection, now belong to The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. The Bacchanalia and The Apotheosis of the Infanta Isabella were bought for the Hermitage in 1779 together with the Walpole Collection (from Houghton Hall in England); The Last Supper came to the Hermitage in 1768 from the Cobenzl Collection (Brussels). These three paintings were then transferred to Moscow in 1924 and 1930.

Rubens and Isabella Brant in the Honeysuckle Bower, c. 1609. Oil on canvas, 178 x 136.5 cm. Alte Pinakothek , Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen , Munich.

One gains the impression that in the 17th century Rubens did not attract as much attention as later. This may appear strange: indeed his contemporaries praised him as the “Apelles of our day”. However, in the immediate years after the artist’s death, in 1640, the reputation which he had gained throughout Europe was overshadowed. The reasons for this can be found in the changing historical situation in Europe during the second half of the 17th century.

In the first decades of that century nations and absolutist states were rapidly forming. Rubens’ new approach to art could not fail to serve as a mirror for the most diverse social strata in many European countries who were keen to assert their national identity, and who had followed the same path of development. This aim was inspired by Rubens’ idea that the sensually perceived material world had value in itself; Rubens’ lofty conception of man and his place in the Universe, and his emphasis on the sublime tension between man’s physical and imaginative powers (born in conditions of the most bitter social conflicts), became a kind of banner of this struggle, and provided an ideal worth fighting for.

Samson and Delilah, c. 1609-1610. Oil on panel, 185 x 205 cm.
The National Gallery London

In the second half of the 17th century, the political situation in Europe was different. In Germany after the end of the Thirty Years’ War, in France following the Frondes, and in England as the result of the Restoration, the absolutist regime triumphed. There was an increasing disparity in society between conservative and progressive forces; and this led to a “reassessment of values” among the privileged, who were reactionary by inclination, and to the emergence of an ambiguous and contradictory attitude towards Rubens.

This attitude became as internationally prevalent as his high reputation during his lifetime, and this is why we lose trace of many of the artist’s works in the second half of the 17th century after they left the hands of their original owners (and why there is only rare mention of his paintings in descriptions of the collections of this period). Only in the 18th century did Rubens’ works again attract attention…

The Four Philosophers, 1611-1612. Oil on canvas, 164 x 139 cm.
Galleria Palatina e Appartamenti Reali (Palazzo Pitti) , Polo Museale,
Florence.
Juno and Argus, c. 1610. Oil on canvas, 249 x 296 cm. Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud , Cologne.

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Rodin – Rilke – Hofmannsthal. L’homme et son génie

Exposition: Rodin – Rilke – Hofmannsthal.  Man and His Genius 

Date: Nov 17, 2017 − Mar 18, 2018

Lieu: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Le Penseur, 1881. Bronze, 71,5 x 40 x 58 cm. Musée Rodin , Paris.

« Les écrivains s’expriment par des mots… mais les sculpteurs par des actes. »
— Pomponius Gauricus, De Sculptura (vers 1504).

« Le héros est celui qui reste inébranlablement centré. »
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

La Porte de l’Enfer (détail), 1880-1917. Bronze. Musée Rodin , Paris.

Rodin était solitaire avant sa gloire. Et la gloire qui vint, le rendit peut-être encore plus solitaire. Car la gloire n’est finalement que la somme de tous les malentendus qui se forment autour d’un nom nouveau.

Il y en a beaucoup autour de Rodin, et ce serait une longue et pénible tâche que de les dissiper. D’ailleurs, ce n’est pas nécessaire. C’est son nom qu’ils entourent, et point l’oeuvre qui s’est développée bien au delà du nom et des limites de ce nom, qui est devenue anonyme, comme une plaine est anonyme, ou une mer qui n’est dénommée que sur la carte, dans les livres et chez les hommes, mais qui, en réalité, n’est qu’étendue, mou – vement et profondeur.

La Porte de l’Enfer (détail), 1880-1917. Bronze. Musée Rodin , Paris.

Cette oeuvre, dont il va être question ici, s’est accrue depuis des années, et grandit chaque jour comme une forêt, et ne perd pas une heure. On circule au milieu de ses mille objets, vaincu par la profusion des trou vailles et des découvertes, et l’on se retourne involontairement vers les deux mains d’où est sorti ce monde. On se rappelle combien petites sont des mains d’hommes, combien vite elles se fatiguent, et le peu de temps qu’il leur est donné de se mouvoir. On de mande celui qui domine ces mains. Quel est cet homme ?

Jean de Fiennes, vêtu, 1885-1886. Bronze, 208,3 x 121,9 x 96,5 cm.
Musée Rodin , Paris.

C’est un vieillard. Et sa vie est de celles qui ne peuvent pas se raconter. Cette vie a commencé, et elle va aller jusqu’à atteindre un grand âge, et elle nous donne l’impression d’être passée depuis une éternité. Nous n’en savons rien. Elle doit avoir eu une enfance quelconque, une enfance, quelque part dans la pauvreté, obscure, cher cheuse et incertaine. Et cette enfance existe peut-être encore, car – dit saint Augustin – où s’en serait-elle allée ? Sa vie, peut-être, contient toutes ses heures passées ; les heures d’attente et d’abandon, les heures de doute et les longues heures de détresse : c’est une vie qui n’a rien perdu ni oublié, une vie qui se formait en s’écoulant. Peut- être ; nous n’en savons rien.

Balzac, tête monumentale, 1897. Terre cuite emaillée, 42,2 x 44,6 x 38,2 cm. Musée Rodin , Paris.

Mais ce n’est que d’une telle vie, croyons-nous, que la plénitude et l’abondance d’une telle action ont pu sortir ; seule une telle vie, où tout était simultané et éveillé, où rien n’était jamais révolu, peut demeurer jeune et forte, et s’élever toujours de nouveau vers de hautes oeuvres. Un temps viendra où l’on voudra inventer l’histoire de cette vie, avec des complications, des épisodes et des détails. Ils seront inventés. On racontera l’histoire d’un enfant qui oubliait souvent de manger parce qu’il lui semblait plus important d’en tailler avec un méchant couteau un morceau de bois vulgaire, et l’on situera dans ses jours d’adolescence quelque rencontre qui con tienne la promesse d’une grandeur future, une de ces prophéties qui sont toujours si popu laires et si touchantes. Par exemple, on pourrait parfaitement choisir les paroles que voici près de cinq cents ans, un moine quelconque a, paraît-il, prononcées à l’adresse du jeune Michel Colombe :

« Travaille, petit, regarde tout ton saoul et le clocher à jour de Saint-Pol, et les belles oeuvres des compagnons, regarde, aime le bon Dieu, et tu auras la grâce des grandes choses ».

Monument à Victor Hugo, 1901. Plâtre, 155 x 254 x 110 cm. Musée Rodin , Paris.

Et tu auras la grâce des grandes choses… Peut-être un sentiment intime a-t-il parlé ainsi au jeune homme – mais infiniment plus bas que la voix du moine –, à l’un des carrefours de ses débuts. Car c’est là justement ce qu’il cherchait : la grâce des grandes choses. Il y avait là le Louvre, avec toutes ces claires choses de l’antiquité qui faisaient penser à des ciels du sud et à la proximité de la mer, de lourds objets de pierre qui, venus de cultures immémoriales, dureraient encore en de lointains temps à venir. Il y avait des pierres qui dormaient, et l’on sentait qu’elles s’éveilleraient à quelque jugement dernier, des pierres qui n’avaient rien de mortel, et d’autres qui portaient un mouvement, un geste, demeurés frais comme si l’on ne devait les conserver ici que pour les donner un jour à un enfant quelconque qui passerait.

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Mucha: The Red Roses from Prague

Exhibition: Alphonse Mucha

Date: 12 October 2017 – 25 February 2018

Venue: Palacio de Gaviria, Madrid

Zodiac, 1896. Coloured Lithograph, 48.2 x 65.7 cm. Mucha Museum , Prague.

Since the Art Nouveau revival of the 1960s, when students around the world adorned their rooms with reproductions of Mucha posters of girls with tendril-like hair and the designers of record sleeves produced Mucha imitations in hallucinogenic colours, Alphonse Mucha’s name has been irrevocably associated with the Art Nouveau style and with the Parisian fin-de-siècle. Artists rarely like to be categorised and Mucha would have resented the fact that he is almost exclusively remembered for a phase of his art that lasted barely ten years and that he was regarded as of lesser importance. As a passionate Czech patriot he would have also been unhappy to be regarded as a “Parisian” artist.

Spring (from the Seasons series), 1896. Coloured Lithograph, 14.5 x 28 cm.
Mucha Museum, Prague.

Mucha was born on July 14, 1860 at Ivancice in Moravia, then a province of the vast Habsburg Empire. It was an empire that was already splitting apart at the seams under the pressures of the burgeoning nationalism of its multi-ethnic component parts. In the year before Mucha’s birth, nationalist aspirations throughout the Habsburg Empire were encouraged by the defeat of the Austrian army in Lombardy that preceded the unification of Italy.

Summer (from the Seasons series), 1896. Coloured Lithograph, 14.5 x 28 cm.
Mucha Museum, Prague.

In the first decade of Mucha’s life Czech nationalism found expression in the orchestral tone poems of Bedrich Smetana that he collectively entitled “Ma Vlast” (My country) and in his great epic opera “Dalibor” (1868). It was symptomatic of the Czech nationalist struggle against the German cultural domination of Central Europe that the text of “Dalibor” had to be written in German and translated into Czech. From his earliest days Mucha would have imbibed the heady and fervent atmosphere of Slav nationalism that pervades “Dalibor” and Smetana’s subsequent pageant of Czech history “Libuse” which was used to open the Czech National Theatre in 1881 and for which Mucha himself would later provide set and costume designs.

Salon des Cent : 20e Exposition, 1896. Coloured Lithograph, 43 x 63 cm.
Mucha Museum, Prague.

Mucha’s upbringing was in relatively humble circumstances, as the son of a court usher. His own son Jiri Mucha would later proudly trace the presence of the Mucha family in the town of Ivancice back to the fifteenth century. If his family was poor, Mucha’s upbringing was nevertheless not without artistic stimulation and encouragement. According to his son Jiri “He drew even before he learnt to walk and his mother would tie a pencil round his neck with a coloured ribbon so that he could draw as he crawled on the floor. Each time he lost the pencil, he would start howling.”

Fruit, 1897. Coloured Lithograph, 44.4 x 66.2 cm. Mucha Museum ,
Prague.

His first important aesthetic experience would have been in the Baroque church of St. Peter in the local capital of Brno where from the age of ten he sang as a choir-boy in order to support his studies in the grammar school. During his four years as a chorister he came into frequent contact with the six years older Leoš Janácek, the greatest Czech composer of his generation with whom he shared a passion to create a characteristically Czech art…

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