Help to rediscover a Rubens masterpiece


Birth of VenusThe Birth of Venus, about 1632–3

Peter Paul Rubens

Rubens conservation appeal

Rubens was among the greatest artists of the 17th century. The National Gallery is launching an appeal to help restore one of his most beautiful oil sketches.


The project

The Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was among the greatest artists of the 17th century: inventive, ambitious, and prolific, his work has come to epitomise the Baroque style.


The National Gallery houses over 20 paintings by Rubens, ranging from intimate portraits to sweeping landscapes and complex allegories. In addition to paintings, Rubens also produced designs for sculpture, architecture, tapestry, and decorative arts, often formulating his ideas by means of quickly painted oil sketches.


These oil sketches provide a unique insight into Rubens’s practice. Unlike some of his large-scale paintings, which were often executed with assistance from members of his workshop, the oil sketches were painted entirely by Rubens. These works can therefore provide a deeper understanding of how his compositions developed.


“This intriguing oil sketch, painted in monochromatic tones on a wood panel, is a design for a silver basin depicting the birth of Venus. In the centre, Venus steps from her shell onto the island of Cyprus. In the rim around the central group are Neptune and Amphitrite at the top; and Cupid and Psyche at the bottom. Although the painting is in superb condition, over time the varnish has discoloured, so that it is now difficult to discern the delicate beauty of Rubens’s brushwork.”

Betsy Wieseman, Curator of Dutch and Flemish Paintings


Preliminary cleaning tests undertaken by National Gallery conservator Paul Ackroyd have revealed the shimmering white and grey tones of the original sketch, which would have vividly evoked the lustre of polished silver. By removing the top layer of discoloured varnish, Rubens’s modelling and detailing will be revealed. With your support, not only will we be able to complete the work necessary to restore this sketch, we will also be able to undertake scientific and curatorial analysis, which will enhance our understanding of Rubens’s work.


“This conservation project is vital in order to preserve and improve the condition of the oil sketch and it will greatly enhance the appreciation of this remarkable work for generations to come. “

Larry Keith, Head of Conservation and Keeper


Why help is needed


As a charity, the National Gallery depends upon the generosity of individuals to undertake conservation projects of this kind. Support is needed to help raise the £34,500 necessary to fund the conservation of this important work. A contribution, however large or small, will be vital to restoring one of Rubens’s most beautiful oil sketches.


Once the conservation work has been completed, The Birth of Venus will return to public display in Room 29.


Please help us bring this project to life by making a donation today.


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