The cover of this year's Notable Acquisitions celebrates the work of Peter Paul Rubens, one of those rare figures in the history of art who completely dominate their age. In his oeuvre, "Rubens molded life with the clay of optimism and reproduced its fundamental rhythms in pictures of sheer brilliance, in which the whole process of his inventive genius, his exuberance, and love of life are transmitted in the brushwork; its daring, variety, and verve equal that of his subjects, creating a synthetic unity that is the triumph of Northern Baroque painting ... If Rubens's love of life can be seen even in the most somber historical and religious subjects, how much more clearly is it expressed in the numerous paintings of his alluring young wife, Helena ... These paintings exude uncommon warmth and richness; they are Rubens's most intimate creations, unabashed manifestations of the tenderness, joy, and serenity that marked the last years of his life."
I wrote these words fifteen years ago in a small monograph on Rubens. At the time the Metropolitan Museum owned neither a family group nor a self-portrait by the artist. That one of his supreme and most personal works in this genre, a painting of truly princely provenance—the dukes of Marlborough, the Rothschilds, and most recently Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman—should now enter the collection is cause for jubilation.
Judging from the knot of visitors this picture regularly attracts, I can safely say that Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment, and Their Son Peter Paul, arguably the greatest work by the artist in the United States, is already one of the most popular paintings in the Museum.