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Sir Peter Paul Rubens - Portrait of a gentleman (Exhibition)
28 June 18 - 29 June 18, UCT Irma Stern Museum

A masterpiece by the most important painter of his day, Sir Peter Paul Rubens' PORTRAIT OF A GENTLEMAN, an oil on oak panel (54 by 39,3cm), is a treasure. It presents a gentleman in a crisp white ruff and black coat. His face stands out against the sombre greens of the background, while the interplay of light and shade – and the sitter's unflinching gaze and gleaming eyes – draw the viewer in. In 1740 this painting was first sold, then titled Portrait of a Man, at the auction house Jovenau in Doornik (Flemish for Tournai), southwestern Belgium. Since then, it has lived in Amsterdam, London, Germany, and South Africa – journeying through time and following in the rising and falling footsteps of world history. Between 1817 and 1917, the work changed hands on auction and the identity of the artist became the subject of debate: was it a work by Rubens, or possibly a work by fellow Flemish Baroque era painter, Frans Porbus the Younger (Frans II)? In 1917 PORTRAIT OF A GENTLEMAN was sold by collector Oskar Skaller as a work by Rubens, and found its way in 1925 to the collection of a German-Jewish doctor. The doctor sought the advice of eminent Dutch art historian Henk Peter Bremmer, who attributed the work to Rubens in Beeldende Kunst, vol. 12 of 1925. When the doctor decided to flee the encroaching Nazi regime, a trusted patient safeguarded the work for him – eventually returning it before he journeyed to the southern hemisphere in 1932, to create a new and safer life there. In 1927, art critic and historian Ludwig Burchard recorded his belief that the work was created between 1598, when Rubens was appointed to the Guild of Painters of Antwerp, and 1609, when he returned from a trip to Italy on the death of his mother. PORTRAIT OF A GENTLEMAN is therefore over four hundred years old. The early years of the 17th century were a period of extravagance and expansion in many directions: colonialism, the discovery of gold, science, astronomy, international law, philosophy. The lives of Shakespeare and Cyrano de Bergerac overlapped, as did those of Queen Elizabeth of England and Henri IV of France. Genius was in the air, and in art this is most fully expressed in Rubens' paintings. Because he was the portraitist of some of his age's greatest figures, Rubens was known as 'the Prince of Painters and the Painter of Princes'. Of his work, it is said[1] that '[i]ts bulk, poise, balance, weight, he renders faultlessly and with supreme ease. His expressiveness…depends technically largely on the just and delicate distribution of lights and darks which are always colours. Such distribution is…dramatic and emotional.' This portrait is the output of an artist considered to be one of the greatest Old Masters of the Baroque style, having strongly influenced 17th century visual culture and having helped to define Antwerp as one of Europe's major artistic cities. Under Rubens' influence, a whole school of famous painters flourished there – such that everything emerging from his workshop bore the distinctive mark of his style. He not only left his mark on others' art, but is also said to have set the standard for what a painter should be: a gentleman as learned as he was talented. Today, Rubens' works can be viewed in world's finest art museums; recognisable for their theatricality, energy, and sensuality, and for depicting humanity, humanness, and the human body. And the doctor? He settled in Johannesburg, where he resumed his practice and enjoyed a long, successful career as medical practitioner and teacher. PORTRAIT OF A GENTLEMAN may be viewed at the UCT Irma Stern Museum on 28 and 29 June 2018, between 10:00 and 17:00.

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