A beautiful and intimate family portrait by one of the greatest of all seventeenth-century artists, Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, Clara Serena by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was probably painted about 1623, not long before the sitter’s tragically early death at the age of 12. This charming painting, which, after cleaning, has only recently been unanimously accepted as being by Rubens, has never before been shown in the UK.
Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter Clara Serena, about 1623, private collection.
Rubens was an extraordinarily talented artist, scholar and diplomat, who enjoyed a long, prolific and internationally successful career. He is renowned for painting allegories, Biblical subjects and scenes from classical mythology on a grand scale, employing many assistants to meet the intense demand for his work. However, he also created smaller self-portraits, and portraits of friends and family, sometimes using his wife and children as models for figures that appear in his grand narrative pictures.
Clara Serena was the eldest daughter of Rubens and his first wife Isabella Brant, to whom he was deeply devoted. Little is known about her short life: she was baptised in Antwerp on 21 March 1611, and we can deduce that she must have died in the autumn of 1623, as one of Rubens’ friends wrote a letter of condolence on 25 October of that year.
The artist had painted a famous and very touching portrait of Clara Serena at the age of five (now in the Liechtenstein Collection, Vienna), in which the disarmingly direct gaze of the child suggests a close and loving relationship to her father. Experts now agree that the portrait on show shows the same child some years older, most likely around the age of twelve. The freshness and immediacy of the girl’s likeness suggests that Rubens painted this deeply personal picture from life, not long before his daughter died.