Bruegel to Rubens: Masters of Flemish Painting

  Landscape with a rainbow

  1635-40

  Frans Wouters (1612-1660)

  Probably purchased by Charles I

 

As a youth Frans Wouters was a pupil of Peeter van Avont (1600-52) in Antwerp, whom he left to work with Rubens in 1634. Wouters entered the service of the Emperor Ferdinand II (1578-1637) in 1636 and went to England with his ambassador; after the Emperor’s death he stayed in England from until 1641 at the court of Charles I. Even after his return to Antwerp in 1641 he remained in contact with Charles II during the Civil War and Commonwealth period; in 1658 he is described as Charles’s ayuda de cámera (chamberlain).

This is an early work painted during Wouters’s time in Ruben’s studio or perhaps, in view of its provenance, during his English years. It belongs to a tradition of small, atmospheric, poetic landscapes (often with religious subjects) invented by Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610) and developed by Rubens in such works as his Landscape with Moon and Stars of c.1637-8 (Courtauld Institute). As in several examples of the type, the scene is almost nocturnal (in this case late evening); the shadows are ‘closing in’ and the perception of space in the landscape is clouded and fitful. The way in which the light seeps through the trees, giving their fringes a golden halo, derives from Elsheimer’s St Anne and the Virgin (Petworth House, National Trust Collection), from the set of tiny saints in landscapes which Wouters may have seen in the collection of the Duke of Buckingham at York House. Like Elsheimer, Wouters has observed that the colours drain out of forms as night approaches. This landscape is an hour away from being entirely grey; the remaining colour within the light of the sunset is seen in scattered patches on the leaves, ground and sky, each with a mini-spectrum of blue-red-yellow.

Such a moody landscape seems to suggest a subject. The receding storm to the left and the glimpse of rainbow suggests that, like so many Rubens landscapes, this is a (premature) celebration of the passing of the storm of war and the arrival of peace, with its benefits of commerce (a sailing ship is passing down a canal in the middle distance) and agriculture (sheep, goats and pigs browse in the foreground). One of the most famous images of the blessings of peace comes from Isaiah 2: 4: ‘and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’. The farmer here ploughs into the sunset.


Oil on panel

36.9 x 50.7 cm

RCIN 404735