Upcoming Auctions and Events

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS (SIEGEN 1577-1640 ANTWERP)
SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS (SIEGEN 1577-1640 ANTWERP)
SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS (SIEGEN 1577-1640 ANTWERP)
2 More
SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS (SIEGEN 1577-1640 ANTWERP)
5 More
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS (SIEGEN 1577-1640 ANTWERP)

Head study of a bearded old man

Details
SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS (SIEGEN 1577-1640 ANTWERP)
Head study of a bearded old man
oil on paper, mounted on board
15 ½ x 11 ¼ in. (39.7 x 28.3 cm.)
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Christie’s, South Kensington, 2 December 2008, lot 17, as ‘After Rubens – a copy after a lost head study’, when acquired by the present owner.
Literature
N. van Hout, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, Part XX, Study Heads and Anatomical Studies, London and Turnhout, 2020, I, pp. 191-92, no. 72; II, fig. 248.

Brought to you by

Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

This rapidly executed head study on paper has only recently been recognised as the missing modello by Rubens that he used as the prototype for a character who features in a number of his large scale biblical works in the years around 1617-1620. The proliferation of head studies painted by Rubens and his assistants and followers, has in the past caused a certain amount of attributional confusion, compounded by a lack of scholarly focus (Julius Held addressed a mere nineteen head studies in his catalogue of the Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens, 1980). It is with Nico van Hout’s much anticipated overview of the Study Heads for the Corpus Rubenianum, published in 2020, that this crucial aspect of Rubens’s output has finally received the scholarly attention it deserves and been put in order. In so doing, van Hout has rehabilitated the present work, once thought to be a copy, to its rightful place as an autograph head study that played an active part in Rubens’s working practice during one of the busiest phases of his career.
Rubens’s prolific use of head studies for his larger multi-figural compositions is well documented. Spontaneous, rapidly painted studies from a model in the studio to record a particular face, often from a variety of angles – provided Rubens with an essential cast of real-life characters to draw from. These were never intended as finished paintings for display, but kept purely as working tools to add variety and a sense of human veracity to his history paintings. They were, as Nico van Hout puts it: ‘a means, not an end in itself’ (op. cit. I, p.17). Along with his compositional modelli, these head studies were amongst his most important possessions, which he relied on as part of his working procedure for his whole life.
With a furrowed brow and flowing white hair, the wise countenance of the model for this study must have made a striking impression on Rubens. The artist likely encountered him in the years around 1617 when he was preparing for a number of large scale biblical works. As van Hout has confirmed (op. cit.) the study served as the prototype for the old shepherd on the right of the woman kneeling before the Christ Child in The Adoration of the Shepherds, of circa 1617 (fig. 1; Marseille, Musée des Beaux-Arts); for one of the spectators leaning over the balustrade in the Adoration of the Magi of circa 1618-20 (fig. 2; Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique); and in a lost compositional sketch for the Seven Sages disputing over the Tripod, circa 1616, now known from two copies (Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Rijswijk, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, Afdeling Kunstcollecties). Van Hout has also noted that the present work features in a pen and ink drawing by Rubens of Eleven Head Studies, the forehead and nose appearing in the top right corner of the sheet (The Chatsworth Collection; see Van Hout, op. cit. fig. 420). A drawing by Paulus Pontius after the study was probably made in preparation for one of the engravings for the Livre à dessiner (Washington D.C, National Gallery of Art). Rubens also made a drawing of the same model, seated full-length, for the Old man seated, circa 1618-20, now in the Albertina, Vienna (fig. 3).
Many of Rubens’s head studies were adapted immediately after his death to make them appear more like finished pictures than sketches, and thus more sellable. A good example is the Man holding a bronze (Christie’s, 2 July 2013, lot 30; private collection), a head study that was transformed by Jan Boeckhorst. In this case, perhaps by virtue of it being painted on paper, the study has remained in its pure state, allowing for a raw appreciation of Rubens’s extraordinary gift for painting from life.

More from Old Masters Evening Sale

View All
View All