The Garden of Love

Rubens, Peter Paul (b.1577, d.1640)
previously attributed to Peter Paul Rubens (b.1577, d.1640)
possibly Jan Boeckhorst (Belgian or Flemish, b.1605, d.1668)
c 1640
see commentary for dating
Place of production:
Flanders, Belgium
oil on panel
Type of object:
Accession number:


A version of a composition by Rubens in Madrid, this panel was attributed to Rubens, but it is now generally thought to be by another hand. The names Theodor van Thulden, Jan Boekhorst and Willem van Herp have been suggested. Print and technique evidence suggest that the panel's history is complex; it may even have been produced in Rubens's workshop with his close supervision.

Max Rooses believed the landscape and the figures were by Rubens, with additions by another hand. Two early 20th-century German writers, Glück and Oldenburg, were dismissive of the quality of the panel. The attribution to Rubens was maintained by mid 20th-century scholars, particular Dr Ludwig Burchard who examined the painting in 1957. More recently, the attribution to Rubens has been questioned and removed. An attribution to Theodor van Thulden with a date of c. 1640 was proposed by Annegret Glang-Süberkrüb in the mid 1970s. The painting was cleaned in 1991 by Herbert Lank, who felt the painting was not by Rubens. On examining the painting in Lank's studio Michael Jaffé wrote that the work was a 'pastiche painted by someone who knew Rubens's way of painting only as an observer'.

The painting was examined at the National Gallery in 1991. The presence of the pigment azurite dates the painting prior to circa 1690. The preparation of the panel is typically Flemish. The veil of the woman holding the feather whisk is painted with a combination of pigments known as 'Rubens' mauve', used by Rubens and other painters such as Van Dyck and Rembrandt.

In his 1963 article, Burchard discussed how the Waddesdon panel has been modified and repainted in several areas, evident in X-rays and to the naked eye. These later additions were certainly by someone other than Rubens. The three figures on the right and the balustrade were probably added long after the original painting was made.

The quality of painting does differ markedly throughout the panel. The heads of the women are particularly well painted along with the drapery, but the putti and central tree are not so technically proficient. This quality accords with Rubens' studio productions, where artists other than Rubens painted much of the canvas, with Rubens adding finishing touches and executing the figures. Jan Boekhorst did participate in Rubens' studio in the 1630s, when Rubens painted the Madrid version. Another possibility is that the canvas was re-painted after Rubens' death. Boekhorst helped Jan Wildens finish and touch up some of Rubens' paintings after his death in 1640. This hypothesis would account for the time delay between the first and second layers of paint and the number of copies made before the changes were made.

The composition that appears in the Waddesdon panel was engraved in woodcut by Christoff Jaegher, in modifed form, cutting out the fountain and the two figures at the right, and replacing the rosebush with a balcony of lovers disturbed by spurts of water. Rubens's drawings for the woodcut are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. There are painted copies of the first composition in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden; Kunsthistorischesmuseum, Vienna; Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; and in the Palazzo Reale, Naples.

The protruding S-shape shell over the doorway bears a remarkable similarity to the detail of the screen at Rubens's house in Antwerp, which leads to the garden. The painting was thought to show Rubens and his second wife Hélène Fourment on the right, but this is now rejected. However, Hélène was probably the model for the woman in yellow who looks out at the viewer.

The original title of the composition in an inventory of 1645, ‘Conversatie à la Mode’, referred to a sociable gathering conducted in the French style. This was discussed in conduct manuals, literature and poetry. Groups of fashionably dressed and polite gentlemen would be civilized by the presence and conduct of beautiful women, conversing about love. In the centre, the painting shows women’s different reactions to this emotion, personified by the little Cupids.

Phillippa Plock, 2011

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
1270 x 2259
1240 x 1680 - sight
Signature & date:
not signed or dated


Owned by Pedro Alcántara de Toldedo, Duke of Infantado, Madrid (b.1768, d.1841) (listed in a late 18th-century inventory); by descent to the legitimized natural son of the Duke of Infantado Manoel de Toledo, Duke of Pastrana ( b.1805, d.1886); purchased from Duke of Pastrana by Baron Edmond de Rothschild (b.1845, d.1934) in 1885; by descent to his son James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1957.
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957



J. A. C. Bermudez; Diccionaris Historico de los mas illustres Professores de la Artes en Espana; Madrid; 1800; p. 272, n. 1; lists painting in collection of Duke of Infantado
Maximilian Rooses; L'œuvre de P. P. Rubens; 5 vols; Antwerp; 1886-1892; vol. 4, pp. 65-66, no. 836; as 'Societé elegante', in collection of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, landscape and figures attributed to Rubens, other areas, such as the dark ground on the right, doubtable, but retouched by Rubens. Dresden a copy.
Emile Michel; Rubens; Paris; 1900; pp. 482-83; attributed to Rubens, with Dresden as a copy
Edward Dillon; Rubens; London; Methuen; 1909; pp. 164-65; as by Rubens and identified with panel in Fourment's collection
Christopher White, Dutch and Flemish Paintings at Waddesdon Manor, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 67-74; p. 72; notes that Glück considered the painting largely due to the studio, with later overwork by Rubens. 'This opinion is supported by an examination of the painting which does not show an even standard of quality in handling, varying fromt he mechanical treatment of the tree in the middle of the composition tot passages of brilliant brushwork in the drapery. The Waddesdon painting can, however, be considered as a work produced under Rubens's supervision and for which he would have signed responsible'
Sir Francis Watson, The Art Collections at Waddesdon Manor I: The Paintings, Apollo, 69, June 1959, 172-182; p. 181, fig. 11
Wolfgang Burchard, The "Garden of Love" by Rubens, The Burlington Magazine, 105, 1963, 428-432; pp. 428-432, fig. 3; attributed to Rubens
Ludwig Burchard; Rubens drawings; 2 vols; Brussels; 1963; pp. 178-185, nos 180-185
Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; p. 199-200, cat. no. 87, ill.; attributed to Rubens
J Q Van Regteren Altena, Review of The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor. Ellis Waterhouse, Paintings., Oud Holland, 85, 1970, 59-61; p. 60; attributed to Rubens, reworked throughout life
Annegret Glang-Süberkrüb; Der Liebesgarten: eine Untersuchung über d. Bedeutung d. Konfiguration f. d. Bildthema im Spätwerk d. Peter Paul Rubens; Bern; 1975; pp. 91-94, ill. 9-14; attributed to Theodor van Thulden
Richard Verdi, Review of Der Liebesgarten : eine Untersuchung über d. Bedeutung d. Konfiguration f. d. Bildthema im Spätwerk d. Peter Paul Rubens / Annegret Glang-Süberkrüb, The Burlington Magazine, 123, 1981, 106; p. 106
Barbara Scott, The Comtesse de Verrue: A Lover of Dutch and Flemish Art, Apollo, January 1973; p. 23; compares Waddesdon and Dresden paintings
Michael Jaffé; Rubens: catalogo completo; Milan; Rizzoli International Publications; 1989; p. 332, no. 1079; attributed to Rubens, but see later correspondence
Elise Goodman; Rubens The Garden of Love as Conversatie a La Mode; Philadelphia; John Benjamins Publishing Company; 1992; p. 3; ill. attrib to Rubens
Peter Sutton; The Age of Rubens; Boston; Museum of Fine Arts Boston; 1993; pp. 303-306; attributed to Rubens
Görel Cavalli-Björkman, Carina Fryklund, Karin Sidén; Dutch and Flemish Paintings: III Flemish Paintings c. 1600- c. 1800; Stockholm; Nationalmuseum (Sweden); 2010; pp. 289-290; attributed to Rubens
Nico Van Hout, Alexis Merle du Bourg; Rubens and his Legacy; BOZAR, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels 25 September 2014 - 4 January 2015; Royal Academy, London, 24 January - 10 April 2015; London; Royal Academy of Arts; 2015; pp. 307, 328, n. 1.; as an early copy.

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