The Legacy of Rubens exhibition contains many drawings using simple white, red and black chalks on toned paper, by the old master himself and his contemporaries and successors, such as Watteau. The simplicity of this technique is deceptive, requiring clarity of vision, prioritising tones over colours.
The field sketch, above, was done through the window of the bird hide. I aimed to use just black, white, sepia and sanguine conte crayons on warm toned paper, but quickly lost sight of what I was trying to do and gave up.
After returning home, I wondered whether I should have used cool toned paper to provide a contrast with the sanguine chalk. I started playing with this idea and quickly redid the sketch from memory. I still am not using the tone of the paper, and found myself using colours in addition to the intended limited tonal range.
Visiting the Rubens exhibition for the second time, I had intended to draw the pieces in the last room. However, I was hijacked by my eldest son turning up and shooting through the show’s highlights at speed and dragging me out again to eat at a Lebanese restaurant.
The following then is a written reflection. The last room in the Royal Academy exhibition responds to Rubens’ rolling depictions of human flesh and form, drawing not upon his contemporaries, pupils and imitators but on the responses by current and twentieth century artists.
Walking in, I was captivated by the asymmetrical jaw line, by the teeth bared by the rhomboid retracted upper lip and by the clouded divergent eyes in John Currin’s painting The Clairvoyant.
Three sculptures of “woman” corner the central space. First, a pole-like single-breasted painted totem, wrought from clay, by Rebecca Warren. Facing this to the left is Sarah Lucas’ installation “two fried eggs and a kebab” (1992) in which these items are seemingly just plonked upon a table in a viciously comic pornographic caricature. To the right is the same artist’s ‘Suffolk Bunny‘ (1997-2004) in which tan tights are stuffed to ape the female form, clad in blue stockings and clamped to a chair. Facing the hypotenuse of this space is Jenny Saville’s The Voice of the Shuttle, a large composition of carnage and disembodied heads in charcoal and paint: re-weaving a classical myth of rape and revenge, also depicted by Rubens.
I was captivated by the adjacent piece (Picasso: The Dream and Lie of Franco): two printed sheets, each divided into nine panels, satirising the dictator’s claim to represent the best of Spanish culture.