Getty Museum Acquires Important Painting by Rubens and Brueghel in Honor of Retired Director John Walsh
December 3, 2001
Los Angeles--The J. Paul Getty Museum today announced the acquisition of The Return from War: Mars Disarmed by Venus, 1610-1612, by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625). The painting was purchased by the J. Paul Getty Trust in honor of John Walsh, who retired in October 2000 as Museum director and vice president of the Trust. The work, executed in oil on panel, may have been intended for display in a collector's cabinet and was only recently rediscovered. It will go on view in the Museum's East Pavilion in January.
The large painting (50 1/2 x 64 1/2 inches) depicts Venus divesting her returning lover, Mars, of his armor within the vaulted caverns of Vulcan's forge. Leaning into Mars' embrace, the nude goddess fixes the God of War with a disarming gaze, as he stands relaxed and oblivious to the amorini playfully stealing away his martial emblems. In the 17th century, the subject of Mars disarmed by Venus was universally understood as an allegory of peace. Here, the artists' inventively combined efforts result in delightful visual puns, such as the still cannons next to Mars, and the loose bridles hanging next to the aggressively seductive goddess. Brueghel's handling of objects with smoothly reflective sensuousness rivals Rubens' opulent handling of flesh.
"The extreme rarity of collaborative paintings by Rubens and the elder Brueghel on the market make it unlikely that a work of this type and quality will become available again," says Dr. Barry Munitz, president and chief executive officer, the J. Paul Getty Trust. "The acquisition of this beautifully executed panel by the two leading painters in Antwerp at the dawn of the 17th century is a fitting tribute to John Walsh--an individual whose leadership, commitment, and integrity helped shape the Museum through a formative period of its development." The painting has been named "Acquisition of the Year" by Apollo art magazine in the December 2001 issue.
Walsh led the Getty Museum for 17 years, and is credited with overseeing the major expansion of its collection and the transition from its original home at the Villa in Pacific Palisades to the Getty Center, which opened in December 1997. An eminent scholar of 17th-century Dutch art, Walsh came to the Getty from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he was curator of paintings, and a visiting professor of fine arts at Harvard University. He previously held curatorial positions in the department of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and later taught at Barnard College and Columbia University. Walsh remains associated with the Museum in an unofficial capacity, and returns to curate Bill Viola: The Passions Series and Five Angels, a special exhibition of the work of the seminal Long Beach-based video artist scheduled to open in late January 2003.
A Rich Collaboration
"The Return from War remains largely unknown to scholars, and represents an extraordinarily significant addition to the work of both Rubens and Brueghel," says Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. "Introducing this work to the scholarly and general public will provide a unique opportunity to examine the stunning originality of their joint oeuvre."
Rubens was one of the most outstanding and inventive painters of the 17th century. The Return from War: Mars Disarmed by Venus was produced during a period of intense activity, in which his versatility took the form of fruitful collaboration with his close friend Jan Brueghel the Elder, an eminent practitioner of meticulous landscape and still life. The Return from War is the only known collaborative painting to adapt a public subject (the return from war) to a cabinet-picture format, and its grand scale and ambitious handling denote its unique importance within this tradition.
"What sets The Return from War apart from other works of this subject is the equal emphasis given to the figures and their surroundings, as cannons and armor balance a powerful figural group," notes Scott Schaefer, curator of paintings, J. Paul Getty Museum. "This harmony is the result of the close collaboration between the two friends--Rubens, who painted the figures, and Jan Brueghel, who painted the landscape and armaments."
The Artists and Their Styles
The preeminent artistic personality of Baroque Europe, Rubens was born in Seigen, Germany in 1577, and returned to his families' native Antwerp in 1587. After training with three local painters, he registered as a Master in the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1598. In 1600 he embarked on an extended Italian sojourn, serving as court painter to the Duke of Mantua, and studying the antique sculpture and Renaissance paintings that informed the content and structure of his works throughout his career.
Following his return to Antwerp at the end of 1608, the artist became court painter to the governors of the southern Netherlands--archdukes Albert and Isabella. With the execution of important large-scale altarpieces, including the Descent from the Cross (1612), he established his reputation as an inventive, learned master whose painterly brushwork and rich palette were to become widely emulated. Over the next decade, Rubens secured his international reputation, building a large house and studio to accommodate commissions, as well as numerous studio assistants and students, including Anthony van Dyck.
A prolific landscape and still-life painter, Jan Brueghel was born in Brussels in 1568, the second son of the painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Brueghel's earliest paintings date from his Italian sojourn, which began in 1589, when he worked in Naples, and later in Rome for Cardinal Ascanio Colonna. While in Milan from 1595 to 1596, he befriended the great collector Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, for whom he painted throughout his career. After traveling to Cologne and Prague, the artist returned to Antwerp, entering the Guild of Saint Luke as a Master in 1597, and became court painter to the archdukes in 1606.
Called "Velvet Brueghel" for his delicate, richly hued compositions, he was committed to naturalistic observation, and filled his scenes with elaborate detail. A master of verdant landscapes with fluid, precise rendering of objects, as well as flower still lifes and garlands, Brueghel enjoyed fertile relationships with several Antwerp painters in this period, especially Rubens.
Rubens and Brueghel were close friends, as eloquently demonstrated by Rubens' intimate portrait, Jan Brueghel and His Family, around 1612-13 (London, Courtauld Institute). They worked together frequently, executing approximately 25 works together over the course of 25 years, from approximately 1597 to 1625. Their partnership began with a war theme, the Battle of the Amazons, around 1597-1599 (Potsdam, Schloss Sanssouci); yet is more famous for the Madonna and Child with flower garlands, mythological subjects, and allegories of the senses.
The two artists largely adhered to their respective genres, with Rubens contributing the figures and perhaps devising the iconography, and Brueghel painting the elaborate, atmospheric scenery and still-life elements. Their collaborations were highly prized and sought after by collectors throughout Europe.
The Artists' Other Works in the Collection
As a boldly painted mythological subject, The Return from War balances the sober and compelling Rubens' Entombment (ca. 1612) already in the Getty collection. The remainder of Rubens' works in the collection is comprised almost entirely of preparatory oil sketches, and The Return from War further demonstrates the artist's exceptional ability to compose complex figure groups, along with his marvelous fluid brushwork.
Jan Brueghel the Elder's Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark (1613) and Landscape with the Preaching of Saint John the Baptist (1598) are perennial favorites with visitors to the Getty. The Return from War is likely to appeal to the public for many of the same reasons--in it, they will find Brueghel's meticulous brushwork and other familiar elements, such as the elegant white steed in the middle ground. The panel also introduces viewers to the artist's extraordinary ability to convincingly depict metal surfaces. The Return from War--twice the size of the Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark--offers a dramatic counterpoint to the artist's lush outdoor landscapes.
The Return from War eloquently demonstrates how collaboration epitomized the strengths of 17th-century Flemish painting, and brilliantly unites two key aspects of the Flemish tradition, still life and history, in the Museum's collection.
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