‘Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, Clara Serena’ by Sir Peter Paul Rubens
‘Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, Clara Serena’ by Sir Peter Paul Rubens

Rubens portrait to make UK debut in Edinburgh

A family portrait by one of the greatest 17th-century artists will be on display at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh from 17 November to 28 January, 2018.

‘Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, Clara Serena’ by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was probably painted around 1623, not long before the sitter’s tragically early death at the age of 12.

The painting has only recently been unanimously accepted as a work by Rubens and has never before been shown in the UK.

Speaking of the display, Tico Seifert, senior curator for Northern European Art, said, ‘We are delighted to present ‘Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, Clara Serena’, one of the most intimate and enigmatic portraits Rubens painted of a family member.

‘This deeply personal picture is likely to have been painted ‘from life’, not too long before Clara Serena died. I am sure this little gem will resonate with our visitors and inspire their imagination. The portrait has never been shown in Scotland before and we are grateful to the owner for generously lending it to the National Galleries.’

Rubens was an artist, scholar and diplomat, who enjoyed a long, prolific and internationally successful career.

He is renowned for painting allegories, Biblical subjects and scenes from classical mythology on a grand scale.

He also created smaller self-portraits, and portraits of friends and family, sometimes using his wife and children as models for figures that appear in his grand narrative pictures.

Clara Serena was the eldest daughter of Rubens and his first wife Isabella Brant.

Little is known about her short life: she was baptised in Antwerp on 21 March 1611, and it is believed she died in the autumn of 1623.

Until 2013, ‘Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, Clara Serena’ was in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It was believed to have been painted a follower of Rubens.

It was de-accessioned by the museum and subsequently sold at auction to a private collector.

‘Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, Clara Serena’ by Sir Peter Paul Rubens

‘Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, Clara Serena’ by Sir Peter Paul Rubens

Following the removal of layers of discoloured varnish and overpaint, experts are convinced that this tender portrait, with its carefully painted head and more sketchily painted chemise and background, is indeed by Rubens.

The artist had painted a famous portrait of Clara Serena at the age of five (now in the Liechtenstein Collection, Vienna), in which the disarmingly direct gaze of the child suggests a close and loving relationship to her father.

Experts now agree that the portrait on show in Edinburgh shows the same child some years later, most likely around the age of 12.

The freshness and immediacy of the girl’s likeness suggests that Rubens painted this deeply personal picture from life, not long before his daughter died.

Isabella Brant survived her daughter by a mere three years and in 1630, Rubens married Helena Fourment.

The artist continued to portray his family members and to use them as models for his figure paintings.

For the two months of this display, Clara Serena will appear close to an image of her younger, half-brother Frans, who features as a servant-boy in the magnificent ‘Feast of Herod’, hanging nearby.

Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, Clara Serena was one of the stars of Rubens in Private, an exhibition at the Rubenshuis in Antwerp in 2015, which examined the significance of the artist’s portraits of his family.

The painting is currently on long-term loan from a private collection to the Rubenshuis and has been generously loaned to the National Galleries of Scotland for a short while.