Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rembrandt in America

It wasn't the best collection of Rembrandts

or even Rembrandts in America

(I badly missed this one, this one, and, of course, the stolen one for example)

But still, there were some wonderful paintings, like the above self-portrait from the National Gallery

And there were many paintings from private collections, like the one above, that I will probably never see again.

This very early painting (along with two others from the same series) was fascinating because it was so good -- and so different from the kinds of things that later made him famous.

The best of the early paintings in this show came from my own museum in Chicago.

It's kind of amazing that he could be so good at the tender age of 25

Which brings up yet another reason this exhibit was so engaging :
it spanned the artist's life -- so you get to follow the young hot-shot as he grows older, wiser, and sadder.

While yet another reason to like the show was the window it offered into the world of collectors and restorers.

The above piece looked a bit silly after a student apparently added a big top hat which was recently removed in the process of restoration --- which then allowed the painting to finally be attributed to the master and then qualified it for the Bellagio collection that Steve Wynn was assembling in Las Vegas.

I still wouldn't call it a great painting -- but like all the minor pieces in this exhibition, it makes the great ones look even better.

And in this instance, you get to view two versions of the same theme.

I have no idea why the apostle Bartholomew was so important to the artist.

All that seems to distinguish him is his legendary manner of martyrdom: he was flayed alive - so the artist shows him holding the knife that was used.

The above version is one of my favorite paintings in the show -- the force of the character's personality extends several feet into the gallery.

This version of Bartholomew projects a strong personality as well - one that feels, to me, like a person from the 20th Century. He appears to be a clerk at a ticket counter.

But there may be some condition issues with the hand - it feels too dark and murky.

There's also two versions of 'Lucretia', the above obviously done by a not-so-accomplished student.

While I'd call this one, from the Minneapolis Museum's own collection, a masterpiece.

The docent said that it was painted in one day - but I don't believe it.

Here's another example of Rembrandt-like work --- although in this case it's Jan Lievens who was a slightly younger contemporary with whom young Rembrandt briefly shared a studio. I wrote about a recent Lievens exhibit here , and noted that Lievens was not-so-good at multi-figure compositions - though, unfortunately ,good examples of that kind of thing cannot be found in this Rembrandt show either.

There is speculation that Carel Fabritus painted this dark figure against a light background -- and that seems right to me. How tragic that he died so young. (he lived too close to a munitions warehouse)

This depiction of Saskia as Minerva was the most thrilling thing in the show, coming as it does from a private collection, so there's not much chance I'll ever get to see it again.

And it's such a good and fun painting.

That contorted face sketched into the shield in the background is allegedly the artist's self portrait - playing little lover games as he depicts his cute wife as some kind of scholar.

And here's all the other paintings that I can remember from the show

Mostly, I felt that these were second-rate Rembrandts -- but still first-rate examples of an artist practicing his trade.