Two great paintings that were always intended to be a pair are currently on display in the same room for the first time in 200 years.
The two paintings by Rubens, A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning and The Rainbow Landscape, were painted as pendants, that is paintings intended to be displayed in close proximity to each other.
Although kept together in Rubens’s own collection, the paintings were brought to London in 1803, but separated for good with The Rainbow Landscape eventually entering the Wallace Collection and A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning, the National Gallery collection.
Attempts to reunite the paintings in the past have not been possible, mainly due to the fragile state of the wooden boards that support them.
The National Gallery, having restored A View of Het Steen, has now loaned it to the Wallace Collection so that the pair could be reunited again.
“When pictures painted as companions are separated,” John Constable once observed, “the purchaser of one, without being aware of it, is sometimes buying only half a picture.”
The basement exhibition space in the Wallace is where you will find the pair, and it’s worth delaying your visit for a few minutes to watch an introductory film in a neighbouring room, as it really helps to explain the significance of the paintings and what to look for when you finally see them.
The main gallery though has been split in three, with an antechamber on arrival with a few more words to say, before you enter the main room itself – with the two paintings.
It’s worth noting that they face each other and are not side-by-side, as they are not two halves of a single scene, but two paintings that reflect different, yet similar visions of an idyllic landscape.
As an exhibition, it’s just two paintings. Large paintings, but just two of them. Yet, the richness of the painting is so much that any more paintings in the room would be overkill.
You can spend ages looking at the two, either standing at the end of the room to take them both in or on a bench observing them in turn. What matters is that the pair are back together once again so they can be experienced at the same time.
But not for long. The two paintings will return to their normal homes in their separate galleries soon, so you have only until 15th August to see them together.