Rubens Helena and Son
Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment, and One of Their Children (circa 1635) Rubens’ painting “Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment, and One of Their Children” is a very large, measuring 80? x 62? in. , oil painting on a wood. It’s a family portrait of Rubens himself with his wife and their son. When Rubens married his second wife Helena Fourment, on December 6, 1630, she was only sixteen years old. He was already fifty-three at that time. Helena became the model and the inspiration for many paintings by Rubens dating from the 1630s, and particularly those dealing with themes of ideal beauty or love.
The painting itself is very realistic and three-dimensional. Despite clearly visible outlines and contours of all figures and objects, they are rather shaded than solid. The brushstrokes are visible, even loose, but aren’t heavy. Rubens carefully placed them to accentuate and emphasize details. Soft, dull, and earthy colors are primary on the painting with predominance of olive-green, black and beige tones, which brings harmony and balance to the composition. The whole painting overall is quite busy and artist put lots of details in each component.
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Human’s figures are large and take almost the whole space of the painting. They are arranged in a classic “golden triangle”, which gives a sense of visual utility. The most centered is a figure of Helena, who’s dressed in a large, puffy dark dress with deep, revealing decollete. Comparing to others, she takes more space on the painting. The main accent is on her face, neck, and chest. In contrast to the whole outfit, her light-toned skin, peachy cheeks and dark eyes are glowing.
Each line, each shadow, made by the artist, captures ease and grace of her moves. Despite being portrayed in mostly darker colors, Helena, and, especially, the upper part of her body, is the focal point of the painting. Rubens and their son are gazing at her, which also signifies that she’s the center of attention. Helena is not portrayed head-on, confronting a viewer, but is instead turned at an angle and gazes tenderly down at her son. All gestures are slow, gentle and kind. It especially can be seen as she’s holding a “robe”, connecting with her son.
But this mother-child connection is rather symbolic and is not accentuated. Rubens’ figure is being overlapped by the figure of Helena. The husband, also in a dark outfit, is a continuation of his wife; they are two parts of a whole. For emphasizing this, artist used the same, but less intense, color palette. Rubens is gently holding Helena’s hand with his eyes fixed on her. His head is turned towards wife, but body parts, such as feet and hands, are pointed towards their child, demonstrating that the son and the wife are all he’s interested in.
Based on figure’s proportion of all human’s, the boy is probably about two-three years old. He is wearing a blue sash across his beige outfit. The colors, used by Rubens for portraying the son, are lighter, than those, used for the rest of people and objects on the painting. Rubens didn’t make him blend with the background, but, by using such color combination, separated from the parents and other components of the painting. By doing so, Rubens divided the whole composition into three integral parts: Rubens-Helena, their son, and the background.
Although all of it has its own color value and intensity, it corresponds well with each other. All three of them are portrayed on a garden background. Rubens filled all space around human’s figures with garden elements, such as blooming flowers, parrot, fountain, statue, and arches. In terms of colors, Rubens used mostly neutral palette, making background more shaded and blurred. It helps creating three-dimensional space and points to the prime focus of the painting.
In spite of overall dull and darker shades, it has lots of warmth, accentuated by a softer background colors, including light-pink flowers and brighter red-blue parrot. The boy is smiling and looking at Helena. By making all of them gazing at each other, Rubens creates an effect of very intimate environment, which doesn’t involve anybody else, except three of them. All other details only help drawing viewer’s attention to human figures and balance the composition. In such way Rubens didn’t just make the family portrait, but also emphasized the affection and love they have to each other.