Exhibitions/ Art Object

A Forest at Dawn with a Deer Hunt

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, Siegen 1577–1640 Antwerp)
ca. 1635
Oil on wood
24 1/4 x 35 1/2 in. (61.5 x 90.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, The Annenberg Foundation, Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, Michel David-Weill, The Dillon Fund, Henry J. and Drue Heinz Foundation, Lola Kramarsky, Annette de la Renta, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, The Vincent Astor Foundation, and Peter J. Sharp Gifts; special funds, gifts, and other gifts and bequests, by exchange, 1990
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 642
Rubens painted about three dozen landscapes during his busy career, mostly for his own pleasure. The late ones, like this superb example, transform earlier Flemish models through fresh studies of nature and color and brushwork ultimately inspired by Titian. Here hunting is treated as a contest of elemental forces: light and darkness, life and death, growth and decay.
This superb picture of about 1635 is the only finished landscape painting (as opposed to an oil sketch) by Rubens in an American collection. Almost all of the approximately three dozen known landscape paintings by Rubens, who made them largely for his own pleasure, have long been secure in British and Continental collections, many of them royal or princely.

The present title goes back to the 1640 inventory of Rubens’s estate, where no. 108 is described as "Un bois avec un chasse à l’aube de jour, sur fond de bois." However, when the panel was sold in the auction of the celebrated Lansdowne collection in 1806 its subject was said to be "A Grand Landscape; scene, the Sun setting in fervid Heat, darting its fierce Rays from behind a Wood . . . it almost dazzles the eye to look at it." The connoisseur and collector Sir Abraham Hume noted in his copy of the sale catalogue that Sir Joshua Reynolds had once owned the picture, and that "Sir W. W. Wynne" was the successful bidder. Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn (1772–1840), 5th Baronet, and his descendants kept the landscape at their seat, Llangedwyn Hall in North Wales, until the death of the tenth baronet in 1987. After brief periods in the family estate and the art trade the picture—perhaps the last Rubens landscape available—was purchased by the Museum with the help of numerous funds and friends.

The intensity and the red and yellow colors of the sunlight strongly suggest that the sun is setting; the deer, chased by a hunter and his hounds, are running for shelter in the deepening shadows of the forest. Rubens often suggested in his landscapes an encounter of elemental forces, such as light penetrating darkness, a struggle between life and death, or the cycle of growth and decay. Here the twisted forms of old trees contrast with the slender trunks of new ones and in their impetuous rhythms add to the sense of urgency and life surging throughout nature.

Rubens’s later landscapes especially may be traced back to his Northern roots, such as the forest landscapes of about 1600 by Roelant Savery and Gillis van Coninxloo. In general he carried their ideas further, and modified them in ways reflecting Rubens’s esteem of Titian and Adam Elsheimer and his fresh experience of the Flemish countryside. (The painter’s country estate at Elewijt was purchased in 1635 and appears romantically transformed in works such as Landscape with the Chateau Het Steen in the National Gallery, London.)

The panel is composed of ten pieces, in a configuration suggesting that a smaller support was expanded on all sides, especially at the top, left, and right. This probably occurred at an early moment in the course of work. Supports made in this impromptu manner usually occur in Rubens’s oeuvre when the object was intended for his own use.

[2011; adapted from Liedtke 1992]
the artist, Peter Paul Rubens, Antwerp (until d. 1640; inv., 1640, no. 108); Sir Joshua Reynolds, London (sold for £100 to Chauncey); Charles and Nathaniel Chauncey, London (until 1790; their estate sale, Christie's, London, March 26–27, 1790, no. 87, for 62 gns. to Lansdowne); William, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, Lansdowne House, London (1790–d. 1805; his estate sale, Lansdowne House, March 19, 1806, no. 62, for 305 gns. to Williams-Wynn); Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 5th Baronet, Llangedwyn Hall, Oswestry, Wales (1806–d. 1840); the Baronets Watkin Williams-Wynn, Llangedwyn Hall (1840–1951); Sir Owen Watkin Williams-Wynn, 10th Baronet, Wynnstay, Denbigh, Wales (1951–87; transferred to Trustees of the 1987 Williams-Wynn Settlement); Trustees of the 1987 Williams-Wynn Settlement (1987–89; sale, Christie's, London, December 8, 1989, no. 68, for £3,000,000 to Artemis); [Artemis, Agnew, and E. V. Thaw, London, 1989–90; sold to MMA]
London. British Institution. May 1835, no. 151 (as "A Woody Landscape, Sunset," lent by Sir W. W. Wynne [sic], Bt. M.P.).

London. British Institution. June 1847, no. 42 (as "Landscape," lent by Sir W. W. Wynn, Bt. M.P.).

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1888, no. 151 (as "Landscape," lent by Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, Bart.).

London. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "A Loan Exhibition of Works by Peter Paul Rubens, Kt.," October 4–November 11, 1950, no. 38 (as "A Forest with a Deer Hunt," lent by Lt.-Colonel W. O. Williams Wynn).

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Flemish Art 1300–1700," December 5, 1953–March 6, 1954, no. 181 (as "Deer Hunt in the Forest," lent by Lt. Col. Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, Bt.).

London. National Gallery. "Making and Meaning: Rubens's Landscapes," October 16, 1996–January 19, 1997, unnumbered cat.

Antwerp. Rubenshuis. "A House of Art: Rubens as Collector," March 6–June 13, 2004, no. 10.

Vienna. Graphische Sammlung Albertina. "Peter Paul Rubens," September 15–December 5, 2004, no. 128.

Inventory of the estate of Peter Paul Rubens. 1640, no. 108 [published in J. Denucé, "The Antwerp Art-Galleries: Inventories of the Art-Collections in Antwerp in the 16th and 17th Centuries," The Hague, 1932, p. 61].

Morning Herald (April 5, 1790), observes that this landscape was purchased at the Chauncey sale by Lord Lansdowne for 61 guineas [annotation in sale cat. in Victoria and Albert Museum Library is 62 guineas], and adds that "the fervid sun-beams, through the trees, Sir Joshua appears to have been fired with when he painted his Iphigenia [Royal Collection, London; exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1789]".

John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 2, London, 1830, pp. 31, 201, no. 730, as sold with the collection of the Marquis of Lansdowne in 1806 for 305 guineas, and engraved by Schelte a Bolswert; mentions a smaller version of the same composition in the collection of the Earl of Mulgrave.

John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 9, Supplement. London, 1842, p. 314, no. 251, as in the collection of Sir Watkins [sic] W. Wynn, Bart. M.P.

Max Rooses. L'Oeuvre de P. P. Rubens. Vol. 4, Antwerp, 1890, p. 378, no. 1192, erroneously as no. 109 in the inventory of Rubens's estate; notes that Bode saw the picture in 1888 at the Royal Academy exhibition, and follows him in dating it about 1630; mentions a small copy on wood in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich (no. 811) as well as the one in the Mulgrave collection; publishes an engraving of it by Schelte a Bolswert.

Edward Dillon. Rubens. London, [1909], pp. 184, 237.

Katalog der Kgl. Älteren Pinakothek. 11th ed. Munich, 1911, p. 145, under no. 811, catalogues the Munich picture as a sketch for the MMA work.

Ludwig Burchard. "Anmerkungen zu den Rubens-Bildern der Alten Pinakothek in München." Kunstchronik, n.s., 23 (February 23, 1912), col. 264, notes that the Munich picture is described in Ref. Alte Pinakothek 1911 as a study for this work, but agrees with Rooses [see Ref. 1890] that it is a copy.

Emil Kieser. Die Rubenslandschaft. PhD diss., Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich. Rudolstadt, Germany, 1926, p. 35.

Charles J. Sterling. "Les paysages de Rubens (Esquisse d'une étude)." Travaux des étudiants du groupe d'histoire de l'art de la faculté des lettres de Paris. Paris, 1928, p. 204, describes it as a composition rich with remembrance of Coninxloo in his latest period.

Foreword by Ernst Buchner. Ältere Pinakothek München: Amtlicher Katalog. 18th ed. Munich, 1936, p. 232, under no. 48, catalogues the Munich version as a copy after the MMA work.

Herbert Herrmann. Untersuchungen über die Landschaftsgemälde des Peter Paul Rubens. PhD diss., Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin. Stuttgart, 1936, pp. 14–15, 34, 42, 69 n. 27, calls the Munich picture a copy after a lost sketch by Rubens for the original, which is probably the MMA work.

Gustav Glück. Die Landschaften von Peter Paul Rubens. Vienna, 1945, pp. 38, 64–65, under no. 28, considers the Munich painting the first thought for this picture, which he notes is known only through the Bolswert engraving.

Ludwig Burchard in A Loan Exhibition of Works by Peter Paul Rubens, Kt. Exh. cat.London, 1950, pp. 48–49, no. 38, ill., dates it 1630–40.

Jacob Burckhardt. Recollections of Rubens. English ed. New York, 1950, p. 154 [German ed., "Erinnerungen aus Rubens," Basel, 1898], describes the painting without giving the title or location; seems to use the Bolswert engraving as his point of reference.

L[eo]. v. P[uyvelde]. Le siècle de Rubens. Exh. cat., Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. Brussels, 1965, p. 204, under no. 215.

Julius S. Held. The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. Princeton, 1980, vol. 1, pp. 619–20, under no. 454, observes that Bode [see Ref. Rooses 1890] dates the MMA picture about 1630, but finds it stylistically closer to the "Landscape with the Castle of Steen" (National Gallery, London) which Gregory Martin "persuasively" dates 1636; suggests a source for the motif of brilliant sunlight bursting from behind a group of trees in an engraving by Egidius Sadeler, based on a composition by Roelant Savery [see Notes].

Lisa Vergara. Rubens and the Poetics of Landscape. New Haven, 1982, p. 196, no. 29.

Wolfgang Adler. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. part 18, vol. 1, Landscapes and Hunting Scenes. London, 1982, pp. 154–57, no. 49, figs. 130, 172 (diagram of the supports), considers the Munich picture a preparatory sketch; believes the MMA painting was executed on a composite panel from the outset; cites the copy with the Earl of Mugrave in 1830 as "whereabouts unknown" and associates it with a painting on the art market in Amsterdam in the 1920s; dates it between 1631 and 1635.

Gregory Martin. "Review of Adler 1982." Burlington Magazine 125 (March 1983), p. 166, comments that Adler's diagram of the supports in this panel seems acceptable.

Francis Broun. "Sir Joshua Reynolds' Collection of Paintings." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1987, vol. 2, p. 134 n. 3, pp. 136–38, no. 4, pl. 36, reports an annotation opposite the entry for this painting in Sir Abraham Hume's copy of the Lansdowne sale catalogue (Courtauld Institute Library), stating that it had belonged to Sir Joshua Reynolds and was sold by him to a friend for £100.

Jeffrey M. Muller. Rubens: The Artist as Collector. Princeton, 1989, p. 116, pl. 51.

Michael Jaffé. Rubens: catalogo completo. Milan, 1989, p. 365, no. 1338, ill., dates it about 1635–36.

Artemis 89–90: Consolidated Audited Annual Report (1990), p. 14, no. 4, ill. (color).

Walter Liedtke in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1990–1991." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 49 (Fall 1991), pp. 39–40, ill. (color, overall and detail on cover).

Everett Fahy. "Selected Acquisitions of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987–1991." Burlington Magazine 133 (November 1991), p. 801, colorpl. I.

Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke in Flemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, pp. 9, 211–13, no. 65, ill. in color (overall and detail).

Walter Liedtke. "Addenda to 'Flemish Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art'." Metropolitan Museum Journal 27 (1992), pp. 101–7, figs. 1, 3 (overall with sketch showing location of support panels), 4 (drawing of panel structure), 5 (detail).

Julian Agnew in Agnew's 1982–1992. London, 1992, p. 42, colorpl. 31.

Peter C. Sutton. The Age of Rubens. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston, 1993, p. 43, fig. 38.

Christopher Brown. Making and Meaning: Rubens's Landscapes. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1996, pp. 11, 75–76, 96, 99, 102, 119, colorpl. 71 and ill. p. 119 (diagram of make-up of panel).

Walter Liedtke. "Rubens, His Patrons, and Style." Rembrandt, Rubens, and the Art of Their Time: Recent Perspectives. Ed. Roland E. Fleischer and Susan Clare Scott. University Park, Pa., 1997, p. 130, fig. 5-13.

Seymour Slive. "Jacob van Ruisdael's Variation on a Theme by Rubens at Bilbao." Oud-Holland 111, no. 2 (1997), pp. 187–89, 190 nn. 5–6, fig. 3.

Paul Oppenheimer. Rubens, A Portrait: Beauty and the Angelic. London, 1999, pp. 334–35, colorpl. XV.

Konrad Renger with Claudia Denk. Flämische Malerei des Barock in der Alten Pinakothek. Munich, 2002, p. 465, under no. 48.

Gregory Martin in A House of Art: Rubens as Collector. Exh. cat., Rubenshuis, Antwerp. Schoten, Belgium, 2004, pp. 117–19, 234, no. 10, ill. (color).

Fiona Healy in A House of Art: Rubens as Collector. Exh. cat., Rubenshuis, Antwerp. Schoten, Belgium, 2004, pp. 184, 223 n. 7.

Heinz Widauer in Peter Paul Rubens. Exh. cat., Graphische Sammlung Albertina. Vienna, 2004, pp. 480–81, no. 128, ill. (color).

Anne-Marie S. Logan and Michiel C. Plomp in Peter Paul Rubens. Exh. cat., Graphische Sammlung Albertina. Vienna, 2004, p. 461.

Walter Liedtke. "Toward a New Edition of Flemish Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Munuscula Amicorum: Contributions on Rubens and His Colleagues in Honour of Hans Vlieghe. Ed. Katlijne van der Stighelen. Vol. 2, Turnhout, Belgium, 2006, p. 669.

Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), p. 64.

Bert Schepers and Hélène Dubois in Rubens: A Genius at Work. Exh. cat., Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels. Tielt, Belgium, 2007, pp. 277, 279 n. 19.

Christopher White. The Later Flemish Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen. London, 2007, p. 17 n. 92.

Keith Christiansen in Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, pp. 35–36, fig. 51 (color).

Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 287, no. 229, ill. pp. 225, 287 (color).

The frame is from France and dates to about 1640 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–4). This provincial Louis XIII frame is made of pine and constructed with mitred corners secured with tapered keys. The surface is an early water gilding applied to a dark red bole on a thick gesso layer with vigorous recutting. Not altered in size, the ornament is symmetrically laid out and emerges from center points. An acanthus and shield carved sight edge rises to a twisted ribbon before a hollow. The astragal top edge is carved in bunched leaves depicting laurel and berry, oak and acorn, jonquil and primrose, and has sunflower centers and acanthus corners. A half paterae pattern ornaments the back edge. This frame pattern is derived from early seventeenth-century Roman ornament. The frame was put on the painting after it entered the collection.

[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2017; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
A small related picture which may be a preparatory sketch is owned by the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, and exhibited at Castle Schleissheim (inv. no. 48/3982). The MMA painting was engraved in reverse by Schelte a Bolswert as plate 17 in "The Set of the Small Landscapes" (Hollstein, no. 322; published in Eugène Duthuit, Manuel de l'amateur d'estampes, Paris, 1884, vol. 6, p. 254, no. 17). The landscape was apparently inspired by a composition by Roelant Savery or the engraving after it by Aegidius Sadeler (Hollstein, no. 232, published in Roelant Savery in Seiner Zeit, exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, 1985, no. 122).
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