THE COLLECTION
The Rainbow Landscape
  • Date: c. 1636
  • Object Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on oak panel
  • Image size: 135.6 x 235 cm
  • Object size: 181 x 284 x 17.5 cm
  • Inv: P63
  • Location: Great Gallery
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Description
Provenance
Further Reading
  • This painting offers a magnificent panoramic view of the countryside of Flemish Brabant surrounding Het Steen, Rubens's manor house and estate, situated between Brussels and Antwerp. Here he spent his summers in semi-retirement, from 1636 until his death in 1640. According to his nephew Philip Rubens, he devoted his time to observing and painting the landscape at different times of day. This view is taken from a bird's eye perspective, described by Philip as 'painted up to the horizon.'

    Rubens presents an idealised view of a working landscape. Haymaking is in progress and dairy cattle are being herded down a track. Ducks dabble on the bank of the stream, while smiling milkmaids and a farmhand greet the driver of a hay wagon. Long shadows suggest that evening is approaching and the day's work will soon be done. A sense of peacefulness and contentment pervades, and is heightened by the appearance of a double-arced rainbow that sweeps across the sky, unifying the composition. The difficulty of capturing this fleeting atmospheric phenomenon presented a great technical challenge to artists. Here it surely also has a profound spiritual significance, evoking a sense of reconciliation, which was particularly poignant for Rubens who had sought in his diplomatic activities to bring peace to the Netherlands.

    The Rainbow Landscape and its pendant A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning (National Gallery) are both complex in construction and evolution and were developed together as compantion pieces. They were probably painted at Het Steen and displayed there together. Briefly separated after Rubens's death, they were together again by the late seventeenth century in an important collection in Madrid before arriving in Genoa in the early eighteenth century. They were brought to London in 1803, and separated for good, The Rainbow Landscape eventually entering the Wallace Collection and Het Steen the National Gallery.