Peter Paul Rubens bought the château Het Steen at Elewijt near Malines, between Brussels and Antwerp, in 1635, and lived his last five years there. He produced several atmospheric paintings of the countryside and the castle, including Autumn Landscape with a View of Het Steen in 1636. Originally started on three oak planks, seventeen more were needed.
The sun is breaking in on the right and reflects on the trees, fixing the scene as early morning, with hints of rising mist as the autumn sunlight finally touches the earth. In fact, the picture explores light and timing, with nature's changing colours as autumn sets in. Het Steen means stone house, and it can be seen clearly on the left.
The busy period between summer and winter is reflected here, as a farming couple leaves for market, their cart laden with goods. A hunter steals up to some partridges, his dog imitating his pose. In the distance, two women milk cows, while a fisherman leans on a little bridge. In leisure, too, people take advantage of the remaining good weather: next to the château, a couple in fine attire (perhaps Rubens and his wife?) are walking, and a nurse with a baby sits beneath a tree.
The whole scene gives the viewer a detailed record of the estate, as described by the agent at the time of purchase. Billed as a manor with stone house, orchard, gardens, lake, farm, and even a drawbridge and moats, most of this is portrayed in this rendition of Autumn Landscape with a View of Het Steen. Rubens bought the château as his home with his second wife, and renovated it in the Flemish Renaissance style, adding his coat of arms in the living room, so that it became known as the Rubens castle.
During this late period of his life, Rubens was able to concentrate on his own work, rather than commissions, bringing landscapes to life. John Constable was influenced by this painting, having worked for its owner, Sir George Beaumont. It was later presented to the National Gallery in London, where it remains, also known by the alternative title of A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning.
It's possible to see the influence of Rubens in many other painters, such as Rembrandt, Murillo, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Watteau and Landseer. Delacroix, Cézanne, Manet, Renoir and possibly even Picasso, would have taken something from his technique, while in more recent times, Francis Bacon and Jenny Saville have benefited. Rubens himself was inspired by Italian painters such as Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Titian, and especially Leonardo da Vinci, but brings a different feel to his later works.