The guest work
2022-09-28 • 2023-01-22
Sketches by Rubens at the Bonnat-Helleu Museum in Bayonne
The Guest Work programme is on this occasion a very special event featuring one of the most important painters in history through an exclusive selection of preparatory sketches for one of the most formidable painting collections of its time, that of the Torre de la Parada. In addition to this is another large preparatory sketch for one of the 20 tapestries destined for the Descalzas Reales monastery in Madrid. Finally, with regard to the sketches by Rubens on loan from the Bonnat-Helleu Museum in Bayonne, three reproduction etchings by Paulus Pontius (Antwerp, 1603–1658), belonging to a private collection, can also be seen.
Towards the end of his life, Rubens received the most important commission of his career from Philip IV: a series of around 115 large-scale paintings to adorn the Torre de la Parada, a hunting lodge on the outskirts of Madrid that the king wanted to expand and renovate. Rubens was one of the few artists of the time who was capable of creating a series of paintings of these characteristics and finishing them within a period of approximately two years. Considering the volume of work and the time required to complete them, at his Antwerp workshop Rubens decided to use the help of other Flemish artists. Before applying each one of his compositions onto canvas he conceptualised them in small sketches painted in oil on panels, which he produced himself, around 1636. Most of the depicted themes are mythological and inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses. As well as highlighting Rubens’s fertile imagination and technical mastery, the works are clear proof of his creative process and his sensitivity towards classical antiquity.
The seven sketches are now on display in the museum thanks to the support of Fundación Banco Santander and the scientific guidance of Alejandro Vergara, head of the Conservation of Flemish and Northern European Paintings until 1700 of the Prado Museum.
The collection of sketches is an excellent example of this important, yet unknown to the public, aspect of the Flemish painter’s work. They belong to a prolific period, in which Rubens worked at the service of the Spanish court. Six of them are consistent with the decoration of the Torre de la Parada and, in the middle of the eighteenth century, they remained in Spain owned by the Duke of the Infantado, along with another 50 sketches. Originating from this collection, they were then acquired by the Bayonne-born officer and explorer Victor-Bernard Derrécagaix (1833–1915) on his passing through the country. In 1921 it was his widow who formalised his legacy to the Bonnat-Helleu Museum, adding another sketch by Rubens, made for the tapestries of the Descalzas Reales monastery, which Derrécagaix had also acquired in Spain.