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Peter Paul Rubens: 'Portrait of Susanna Lunden(?) ('Le Chapeau de Paille')'

This painting is one of the most famous by Rubens in the Collection. The title 'Le Chapeau de Paille' (meaning The Straw Hat) was first used in the 18th century. In fact the hat is not straw; 'paille' may be an error for 'poil', which is the French word for felt. The hat, which shades the face of the sitter, is the most prominent feature of the painting.

The portrait is probably of Susanna Lunden, born Susanna Fourment, third daughter of Daniel Fourment, an Antwerp tapestry and silk merchant. Her younger sister Helena became Rubens's second wife in 1630.

Susanna Fourment married her second husband Arnold Lunden in 1622. The portrait probably dates from about that time. The direct glance of the sitter from under the shadow of the hat, together with the ring on her finger, suggests that the painting is a marriage portrait.

Rubens enlarged the painting as the work proceeded, adding a third strip of wood on the right and then enlarging the picture at the base. The additions created a greater expanse of sky, and Rubens added clouds to the right that contrast with the clearer sky to the left, from which the light falls across the body and hands.

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From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Twenty One, July 2008

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