Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rembrandt in America

Rembrandt in America
While most of the best European art has remained in Europe, which is as it should be, a good deal has made its way into museums and collections in the U.S. and elsewhere, much to the delight of those who have access to it.

An exhibition currently at the North Carolina Museum of Art, Rembrandt in America, looks at the the history of collecting Rembrandt paintings in the U.S.

In what looks to be a remarkable show, 27 Rembrandt paintings have been assembled from numerous collections, along with another 23 works by his workshop, assistants and contemporaries that were at one time attributed to the master.

Those who live in New York City with easy access to the Rembrandts in the Metropolitan Museum of art and the Frick collection may be jaded, but in the rest of the country the ability to see Rembrant’s work is much more rare, and a large grouping of his work such as this is unusual by any standard. The show includes works from private collections that are rarely seen by the public (images above, bottom two).

Rembrandt in America is at the North Carolina Museum of Art from now until January 22, 2012. It then moves to the Cleveland Museum of Art where it will be on view from February 19 to May 28, 2012 (and will be accompanied by an exhibition of Rembrandt Prints from the Morgan Library and Museum), and ends its run at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts from June 24 to September 16, 2012.

For those who can’t get to one of the venues in person, there is a rather disjointed image feature on the NCMA website. Clicking on any of the images opens them in a popup within which you can move back and forth, but the series is not always complete. I suggest starting with the eyes of the portrait at the upper right. Be sure to click on the easy to miss “MORE” link below the images for an additional series that contains some of the more interesting images in the exhibition.

As with most museum exhibition previews, I recommend supplementing your viewing with the use of other resources.

You can start by taking note of the sources for works on loan, and looking up the museums and collections to see if a better image is available there. For example, the Indianapolis Museum of Art has a better image of the wonderful self-portrait of Rembrandt as a young man that is part of the show. However, you can sometimes find even better images from other sources, such as an image of that same portrait as seen on the wonderful resource, Rembrandt Life and Work, which, though lighter, reveals more detail (image above, top). Another great resource for Rembrandt images is the Web Gallery of Art. You will find differences in color correction in the same image from different sources as well (including reproductions in books).

Rembrandt’s work, to my mind, is best appreciated up close, and small images often fail to demonstrate his enormous visual power and remarkable brushwork and use of texture. One of the best sources for detailed images of Rembrandt paintings is the beautiful new website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see my recent post), on which several images on loan for the exhibition can be viewed in detail, such as Portrait of a Man, probably a Member of the Van Beresteyn Family (above, second down, with detail, third down, high res version here).

You can easily search the collections for Rembrandt paintings or for an individual title. From the image detail page, choose “Fullscreen”under the image.

There is also a catalog accompanying the exhibition (Amazon link here).

It’s easy to be misled by small images into thinking that Rembrandt’s work consists largely of a bunch of dark, earth colored portraits of stuffy burghers and Biblical scenes, but if you have the chance to see his work in person, to look into the depths of his multi layered glazes and astonishingly textural surfaces, you may discover why he is often at the top of the list of the best painters in the history of Western Art.

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