A LOST masterpiece by Rubens that inspired many of his greatest hunting scenes has been sold to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
The Calydonian Boar Hunt, painted in 1611 or 1612 and for years mistakenly attributed to a follower of Rubens, surfaced at the Paris auctioneers Jean-Marc Delvaux. Instead of its estimate of €10,000 (£7,000) it sold to an unknown buyer for more than €300,000 — at which point other bidders started to realise its true provenance.
That figure pales against the millions that collectors are prepared to pay for a Rubens. Four years ago another rediscovered painting, The Massacre of the Innocents, smashed auction records when it exchanged hands for £49.5 million.
It is thought that the painting was sold on to the Getty Museum by the London agent Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox. The oil-on-panel work was previously only known from later copies and engravings. The attribution to Rubens has been confirmed by David Jaffe, senior curator of Flemish paintings at the National Gallery in London. He told The Times yesterday: “This is an exciting discovery as it represents Rubens’s earliest known hunt scene, which became one of the great themes of his painting career.”
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was the pre-eminent artist of the 17th century, as well as being a diplomat, linguist and scholar. He was knighted by both Charles I and Philip IV of Spain.
During eight years in Italy, from 1600, he was particularly inspired by ancient and Italian Renaissance art. Returning to Antwerp, he continued to travel as both courtier and painter. During repeated visits to London, Madrid and Paris he was able to act as a diplomat while also accepting royal commissions for art. When he came to England in the late 1620s he was asked by Charles I to paint the ceiling of the Banqueting House in Whitehall.
Michael Brand, director of the Getty Museum, said that The Calydonian Boar Hunt was one of the greatest paintings by Rubens in the United States. “It is seldom that a ‘lost’ painting of such an innovative historical subject by an artist of this calibre comes to light again,” he added.
Rubens was depicting the mythological hunt as told by Ovid. His composition portrays the moment when Meleager thrusts a spear into a boar, surrounded by hunters and the bloodied figure of a fallen warrior.
Painted on his return from Italy, it reflects his study of statues from antiquity and reliefs on Roman sarcophagi, which inspired the pose of his subjects and the composition.
Mr Brand said: “The Calydonian Boar Hunt shows Rubens at his most daring and inventive.”
Scholars believe that the artists kept the work in his studio to inspire him as he continued to develop the theme of the hunt and related subjects through the years.
It will be unveiled to the public this week, displayed among the museum’s collection of paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder and other Rubens contemporaries.