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National Gallery Shows Rubens Painting, ‘The Fall of the Phaeton’

May 30, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A major early painting by Peter Paul Rubens, ″The Fall of Phaeton,″ went on permanent display today at the National Gallery of Art on the 350th anniversary of the 17th Century Flemish master of the Baroque’s death.

The 3-by-4 oil, which depicts a dramatic scene from Greek mythology, was purchased by the gallery last year from an undisclosed private collection in London for a sum that director J. Carter Brown described only as in the multimillion-dollar range.

The painting was cleaned to restore its original colors to their former brilliance, and joins the eight other works from Rubens’ later period in the National Gallery’s permanent collection in the West Building.

Except for its inclusion in an exhibition in Cologne, West Germany, in 1977, before it was cleaned, ″The Fall of the Phaeton″ had never been displayed publicly. Little is known of its previous ownership since Rubens painted it in 1605 while studying in Italy.

Brown and Arthur Wheelock, the gallery’s curator of northern Baroque painting, said the painting is important because of what it tells about Rubens in the early, formative stage of his development as the greatest of all Baroque artists.

″This was the springboard of his career into full-blown Baroque,″ said Brown, who praised the painting’s ″extraordinary command of three-dimensio nal space″ and a sophisticated composition that conveys ″swing and power and grandeur.″

The painting shows a scene from Ovid’s ″Metamorphoses″ in which Apollo’s son is thrown from his horse-drawn chariot in the heavens by a blinding thunderbolt hurled by Jupiter.

Wheelock said the cleaning revealed pink hues not previously seen in the painting, and an X-ray examination by gallery conservators showed that Rubens had painted over one figure in the lower right-hand corner of the scene.

Brown also announced the acquisition of the gallery’s first work by the 17th century Dutch painter Aert van der Neer, a nocturnal landscape titled ″Moonlit Landscape with Bridge″ that was painted in 1650.

Both the Rubens and Van der Neer paintings were bought with income from the gallery’s permanent acquisition fund.

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