"His figures seem to be executed with one stroke of the brush and are inspired as a breath of air ..." Thus spoke Giovanni Bellori, one of the great 17th century aesthetes, of the work of his friend Rubens -- an opinion New Yorkers will be able to judge for themselves. Not for decades has so large a group of works by the hand of the great Flemish Painter been seen in a New York gallery.
What professor Freedberg, the ranking Rubens scholar of his generation, describes as the "incomparable mastery of the brush" is revealed in a number of important religious paintings, portraits and mythological improvisations lent to the Gagosian Gallery for this unprecedented occasion. Several of these works were borrowed from important private collections. This is an unusual opportunity to study these rarely seen works.
In his essay, Professor Freedberg provides the intellectual scaffolding which allows for a reexamination of the medium of the oil sketch. As he notes, the present occasion "provides an excellent opportunity to assess the qualities so long admired in the sketches as well as the merits of a few examples of finished paintings that come entirely from Ruben's own hand."
The exhibition is complemented by two small related shows:
Robert Rauchenberg: The Venus Motif. These works from 1964 appropriate the image of The Toilet of Venus, one of the most beautiful and erotic of Ruben's private paintings.
The other exhibition, a survey of the glamorous -- Andy Warhol: Movie Icons of the 60's -- recalls in its the immense prestige that Rubens enjoyed as the portrait painter par excellence to the great Royal courts of the 17th paintings.