My Favourite Painting: Nicola Kalinsky

'This is a familiar scene, such as Rubens saw daily in his later years, and yet it is pure poetry'

Nicola Kalinsky chooses ‘A Landscape in Flanders’

‘A prospect of rural Flanders stewarded to serve its landowner well, with tree-bounded pastures leading to a dense plantation. Above, an evening sky unfolds, ragged grey stratus opening to reveal the remains of a summer’s day, as the sun, setting unseen, lends pink and orange aerial tints and streaks the golden-green grassy banks.

‘This is a familiar scene, such as Rubens saw daily in his later years, and yet it is pure poetry. Rubens paints the beauty of ordinary Nature and his work is a prayer, acknowledging the gift of our place in this glory – a message that, in our current climate emergency, speaks eloquently.’

Nicola Kalinsky is the director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts

John McEwen comments on ‘A Landscape in Flanders’

Rubens’s landscapes were a private pleasure, done at his country estate, Het Steen (The Stone), in the final five years of his life. They were the tranquil opposite of the grandiose religious and mythological paintings that earnt him fame and fortune – renown that was owed also to his career as history’s most successful painter-diplomat. Marie de Medici, for one, regarded artistry the ‘least of his qualities’.

In 1630, Rubens was knighted by Charles I. Widowed, he rejected a grand second marriage in favour of his deceased wife’s niece, blonde and voluptuous 16-year-old Helena Fourment, the embodiment of ‘rubenesque’. ‘I am leading a quiet life with my wife and children, and I have no pretension in the world other than to live in peace,’ he wrote to a friend.

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Landscape was a northern art and, in the Italian Renaissance scheme of things, an inferior genre. Rubens made his name in Italy, but he owned 12 pictures by the great landscape pioneer Bruegel the Elder and collaborated on pictures with Bruegel’s son, Jan.

His formidable curiosity is evident in this painting, a masterpiece of a showery day, where human presence is confined to a distant shepherd and his flock. That his landscapes were on wood panels and not superior canvas shows how private were these works by this most public of artists.
Eighteenth- and 19th-century English artists and collectors valued them highest.

Consequently, the National Gallery has the single most important group. Constable wrote: ‘In no other branch of art is Rubens greater than in landscape.’

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