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Home>Collection & Louvre Palace>Curatorial Departments>Hélène Fourment (1614-73) with a Carriage

Work Hélène Fourment (1614-73) with a Carriage

Department of Paintings: Flemish painting

Hélène Fourment (1614 - 1673) au carrosse

© 1995 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Paintings
Flemish painting

Author(s):
Surname FirstName1, Surname2 FirstName2

Rubens's young second wife, leaving her palatial home in Antwerp, appears together with her son Frans, who was born in 1633. She is dressed in black, in the opulent Spanish style, and wears a hat in the pom-pom fashion then current in Germany and the Low Countries. The two-horsed carriage is symbolic of conjugal harmony, and the gesture of the right hand suggests modesty. This is probably the last known portrait of Hélène by Rubens, done in a sumptuous and lively baroque manner.

A formal portrait

Rubens depicts his second wife, the young and beautiful Hélène Fourment, whom he married in 1630. Behind her is their little boy Frans, born in 1633, dressed in a red suit with a flat white collar. He looks about six or seven years old, which makes it possible to date the composition to circa 1639. Rubens, court painter to the archduke and archduchess of Flanders, Albert and Isabella, was by then a rich man at the head of a flourishing studio renowned throughout Europe. This formal portrait, probably done for his family, also gave him the opportunity to display his social success. Thus Hélène, arrayed like a lady of high society, waits in front of a porch with columns and pilasters. She is leaving their luxurious house in Antwerp, which was built for Rubens in imitation of an Italian palazzo.

Sumptuous attire

The magnificence of the portrait is embodied in the sumptuousness of Hélène's attire. She is dressed in the Spanish style in a long black satin gown and a small headdress with pom-poms attached to a large veil of black gauze. Rubens handles the different materials with ease, painting them in very fluid monochrome blacks which form a precious contrast with the young woman's ivory skin. He sets off this dark attire with the brilliant white satin of the puffed sleeves, themselves accentuated with gold braid. Then he enlivens the whole with delicate touches of color: the pink on the cheekbones and the fleshy mouth, the mauve of the sleeve ribbons (echoed in the belt). Details such as the pearls of the necklace, the jewel at her breast, and the braiding are painted with a thick impasto which reinforces the picture's illusionist aspect.

The classical tradition and the originality of Rubens

In the course of his career, Rubens spent several periods living in Italy, which enabled him to acquire a solid classical culture. The portrait of his young wife is in the tradition of the great portraitists of the Renaissance, such as Titian (1488-1576) and Veronese (1528-88). But Rubens gives a dynamism of his own to the composition by depicting Hélène as she is about to descend the steps of their home and climb into a two-horsed carriage (symbolizing conjugal harmony) which is approaching at great speed. Moreover, we observe the scene from a low angle, which heightens the majesty of the young woman, who occupies a dominant position in relation to the viewer. The painting is one of Rubens' last portraits of Hélène, who was a frequent inspiration to the enamored painter in the final years of his life.

Technical description

  • Petrus Paulus RUBENS (Siegen (Westphalie), 1577 - Anvers, 1640)

    Hélène Fourment (1614 - 1673) au carrosse

  • H. : 1,95 m. ; L. : 1,32 m.

  • Don ? de la Ville de Bruxelles à J. Churchill (1650 - 1722), 1er duc de Marlborough, Blenheim Castle, 1706 ; collection Alphonse de Rotschild, Paris depuis 1884 ; acquis par dation en paiement de droits de mutation, 1977 , 1977

    R.F. 1977-13

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Rubens
    Room 21

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