Masterpieces in Focus

Peter Paul Rubens, A Stormy Landscape (c. 1635–38), oil on oak, 29.7 x 42 cm. NGC. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michal Hornstein, Montreal, 1998

These days most people will visit a museum because they have heard of an exciting exhibition — something new, something strange, something controversial, with important loans from across the globe — a never-again-in-your- lifetime experience.

But what about the objects that are always on view — the so-called “permanent collection”? It seems that their constant availability makes them less of a pressing draw in the busy lives of most. We may think that we know them, but likely we don’t. Most of them have hidden faces too complex for quick apprehension, and shadowy histories that take detective work to uncover — the secret lives of artworks, as it were.

In the coming months, the gallery will offer a series of focus exhibitions that will lay bare some of these fascinating stories. The program will examine older works in the collection — those that have been around the block a few times — which will be an exciting complement to the constant animation in the contemporary galleries.

The first in the series looks at the 17th-century master Peter Paul Rubens and his associates. Rubens was an innovative and aggressive impresario who would influence painting for centuries after his death in 1640. His assistants became famous in their own right, and the methods he developed in his studio would be controversial in debate over the training of painters. The exhibition explains the technical mysteries behind these innovations and the making of art by Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens and others.