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Art Fund Starts Campaign to Save Peter Paul Reubens' The Apotheosis of James I
Apotheosis of James I and other studies, sketch for the ceiling of the Banqueting House ©Trustees of the Glynde Endowment Settlement.

LONDON.- The Art Fund has a unique opportunity to acquire the very first sketch Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) made for his magnificent ceiling paintings in the Banqueting House, Whitehall. The Apotheosis of James I and other studies: sketch for the ceiling of the Banqueting House, Whitehall (c 1629-30), has been owned by a private collection in England for over 200 years and has now been offered for sale to Tate.

Rubens has always been recognised as one of the greatest painters in Western art and his ceiling paintings for the Banqueting House, Whitehall are the most important artistic commission of the period in Britain. The Apotheosis of James I and other studies is Rubens's very first surviving sketch for the project, and gives a crucial insight into the artist's earliest ideas for the design. No other sketch for the overall composition of the ceiling exists, making this a unique treasure in the history of British art.

The Banqueting House was designed by Inigo Jones and constructed between 1619 and 1622. Rubens was in London from 1629 to 1630 acting as a diplomat working for peace between Spain and England. During his time here the commission to paint the ceiling was confirmed. This initial oil sketch was probably painted in London and shown to King Charles I, James I’s son, for approval. The final nine canvases were painted in his Antwerp studio and installed around mid-March 1636.

Tate Britain, the national gallery of British art, does not currently own a work by Rubens, so by acquiring this painting the gallery can begin to represent the magnitude of Rubens’s impact in Britain. The painting is valued at £11.5m but is on offer to Tate at £6m net of special tax concessions. Tate has so far secured £1.5m towards this sum including a pledge of £500,000 from The Art Fund and £300,000 from Tate Members. Tate is seeking to raise the balance by the end of July 2008.

The Apotheosis of James I and other sketches is on show in a special temporary display at Tate Britain until 20 June 2008, where you can see it alongside one of the later intermediate sketches for one of the ceiling paintings, Apollo bestowing Royal Liberality, suppresses Avarice (c 1632-33), kindly lent by The Courtauld Institute Gallery.

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