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Philip Fruytiers (1610-66)

Four Children of Peter Paul Rubens and Helena Fourment with Two Maids c. 1638-9

Watercolour, bodycolour and pencil | 24.6 x 33.6 cm (sight) | RCIN 452433

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  • It has often been thought that Philip Fruytiers was taught by Rubens, and this informal watercolour of four of Rubens's small children certainly seems to indicate a close relationship between the two artists. The group portrait was very likely to have belonged to Rubens himself, who died shortly after its creation. Despite the fact that Fruytiers is relatively unknown today, he was celebrated in the seventeenth century as one of the best artists of the Antwerp school, and numerous paintings and designs by him were engraved. Sadly, it is now only through the resulting prints that we can glean his output since only a handful of works can be firmly linked to his name. This scene depicts a group of four children accompanied by their maid. They have been identified as Clara-Johanna, Frans, Isabella-Helena and Peter-Paul, children of Rubens's second marriage, to Helena Fourment, who was known as 'the most beautiful woman in Antwerp'. They would have been aged approximately 7, 6, 4 and 2 respectively. The group is articulated much like a Roman frieze, moving from right to left along the picture plane. The eldest girl looks out to engage the viewer, whereas the brother next to her is more intent on their destination, gazing firmly ahead, his impatience marked by the manner in which he holds his sister's hand as though to hurry her along. Likewise the two younger siblings are joined by their hands, Isabella-Helena turning back to help her little brother, who is riding a hobbyhorse. The maids convey two separate emotions. The younger of the two enthusiastically leans down towards Peter-Paul, her right hand gesturing in the direction of their procession. The older maid is depicted sharply in side-profile, her left hand holding a basket of fruit. The stern expression on her face seemingly indicates her character, but the awkwardness of her pose gives the viewer a glimpse into the reality of the image. Although the group apparently are heading off to play and to picnic on the fruit in the basket, it is of course wholly staged, set by Fruytiers with a theatrical backdrop of two classical archways leading down to the countryside beyond. Whilst the children and younger maid readily participate, the severe immobile figure framing the right hand of the image slightly mars the charming illusion of spontaneity in the scene. Catalogue entry adapted from Bruegel to Rubens: Masters of Flemish Painting, London, 2007

    First recorded in the Royal Collection in 1890

  • Medium and techniques

    Watercolour, bodycolour and pencil


    24.6 x 33.6 cm (sight)

    36.5 x 45.0 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    The family of Peter Paul Rubens