Eye Candy for Today: Rembrandt portrait etching

Portrait of Abraham Francen, Apothecary, Rembrandt Harmenz. van Rijn, etching and drypoint
Portrait of Abraham Francen, Apothecary; Rembrandt Harmenz. van Rijn

Etching and drypoint; roughly 6 x 8 inches (15 x 20 cm); In the collection of the Rijksmuseum.

Rembrandt was an absolute master of the medium of etching and drypoint — in my opinion, the greatest in the history of art. He is most noted for his etchings of religious scenes and landscapes, but he also did a number of elaborate portraits of patrons and other figures.

Though small, this is a formal portrait etching into which Rembrandt seems to have devoted a good deal of effort, almost as if it were a monochromatic painting.

The subject is described as an apothecary in most versions of the print, but is also is described in at least one as an art dealer. It’s evident that he was at any rate an art collector, as Rembrandt has certainly represented him that way. We see him casting a discerning eye on what appears to be a Chinese ink painting, while surrounded by other paintings and art objects.

The skull may be a memento mori, but the transparency of the small statuette is a bit puzzling to me, given the finished state of the remainder of the etching.

Etchings often exist as prints in several different states, printed at various points in their development.

It’s interesting to compare some of the versions of this portrait. The Rijksmusum itself has at least 12 different versions of the print (note the differences in this one), and you can find others in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Harvard Art Museum, the Morgan Library, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Norton Simon Museum, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and likely a number of other institutions if you care to keep searching.

I like this particular version of the print, both for it’s clarity and feeling of light, and for the simple but beautiful rendering of the window frame and the landscape beyond.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Hiroshi Yoshida spring woodblock print

Spring in a Hot Spring (Onsen no haru), Hiroshi Yoshida
Spring in a Hot Spring (Onsen no haru), Hiroshi Yoshida

Woodblock print, roughly 11 x 16 inches (27 x 40 cm); in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; also on Ukiyo-e Search.

With the visual appeal of both a drawing and a painting, Shin-hanga master Hiroshi Yoshida also combines the sensibilities of Japanese and Western art in his beautiful evocation of a spring day at a hot spring.

Thicker and heavier than etching lines, Yoshida’s woodblock lines are printed in a lighter ink, giving them a comparable but different kind of delicacy.

The subtle color relationships and graceful sweep of the branches combine with the muted contrasts with which he suggests the moving water of the stream to give a lively but contemplative picture of the scene.

 
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Stephen Magsig (update)

Stephen Magsig, cityscape and industrial landscape paintings, NYC and Detriot
Maybe it’s because I grew up next to a steel mill in Northern Delaware, or from my current wanderings in and around Philadelphia, but like many who live in the industrial northeast or upper midwest, I find a particular appeal in the industrial landscape of warehouses, factories, refineries, bridges and railways that were created during the manufacturing heyday of the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Painter Stephen Magsig, who I initially profiled back in 2008, has long been mining these subjects in his paintings of Detroit and New York City.

To say that his paintings have a strong geometric basis is something of an understatement. But it’s more than just the the visual power of geometric shapes that can make these scenes attractive to a painter; it’s also their rich array of textures and colors, particularly in the older structures that have become rusted and weathered. Magsig embraces both in his explorations of industrial subjects.

In his latest series, he focuses on storefronts and building facades in New York City. He often features buildings that appear to have the kind of fascinating architectural details offered by the cast iron fronts that were common in cities like New York and Philadelphia in the 19th century, prior to the widespread use of modern structural steel. These are sometimes brightened with modern paint and at other times show the weathered and graffiti marked fate of less well maintained buildings.

These subjects, along with a number of other scenes of New York, will be highlighted in the show of Magsig’s work that opens at the George Billis Gallery on May 2 and runs until May 27, 2017.

The gallery has a selection of his paintings online, most of which will presumably be in the show.

You can find more of them on Magsig’s own website, along with a section on paintings of Detroit — in which you will find more of the industrial landscape subjects — as well as western landscapes (also strongly geometric), pantings from Italy and prints in drypoint, mezzotint, monotype and linocut.

On Magsig’s his long running painting blog, Postcards from Detroit, you will find hsi small, immediate daily paintings, as well as in the related section on his website and on his store on Big Cartel.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Kawase Hasui’s The Pond at Benten Shrine in Shiba

The Pond at Benten Shrine in Shiba (Shiba Benten ike), Kawase Hasui
The Pond at Benten Shrine in Shiba (Shiba Benten ike), Kawase Hasui

Woodblock prints, roughly 11 x 16 inches (27 x 40 cm). As with most woodblock prints, there are several different “pulls” from the same block for this beautiful image designed by Japanese Shin hanga artist Kawase Hasui.

I’ve selected two versions to show you here. The first, which is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has more color in the blossoms. The second, which you can see on the Ukiyo-e.org website (larger here), has more definition in the leaves.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Rembrandt etching of farm scene with a man sketching

Cottages and Farm Building with a Man Sketching, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, etching
Cottages and Farm Building with a Man Sketching, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Etching, roughly 5 x 8 in. (13 x 21 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum, which has both a zoomable and downloadable version of the image on their site.

Remarkable though they may be, Rembrandt’s etchings of Biblical scenes are somewhat formal and tightly composed. Sale of those etchings was an important part of Rembrandt’s stock in trade an an artist.

His etchings of landscapes, however, seem an extension of his apparent love of sketching on location; they carry much of the relaxed and confident charm of his landscape drawings.

In these etchings, like his reed pen landscape drawings, I get a sense of pleasure in the act of drawing — the fun of hatching in the dark tones, the joy of his needle scratching across the plate, searching out the gestural shapes of the tree and the animals, and the quiet satisfaction of spending time out sketching the countryside with another artist.

 
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Belshazzar’s Feast, John Martin

Belshazzar's Feast, mezzotint and painting; John Martin
Belshazzar’s Feast, mezzotint; & Belshazzar’s Feast, painting; John Martin

John Martin was a 19th century British artist noted for his dramatic depictions of disasters and/or impending disasters.

Here are two of his interpretations of the Biblical story of Belshazzar’s Feast, in which the arrogant ruler of Babylon shows his disdain for the enslaved population of Israelites by using their sacred vessels — stolen from their temple — to serve wine at a huge celebratory feast.

A hand appears and foretells Belshazzar’s destruction and punishment for his arrogance by writing on the wall (from which we get the modern usage of the phrase) in cryptic glowing inscriptions.

Belshazzar is unable to read the writing on the wall. The prophet Daniel is summoned to interpret the inscriptions, and informs Belshazzar of their meaning. Belshazzar, unwilling to be taught humility, ignores the warning and soon after meets his fate.

The mezzotint is a plate from Martin’s “Illustrations to the Bible” and is in the collection of the Tate, Britain. The painting is in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, and is actually a small version of a monumentally large painting that is in a private collection.

I actually think the dark composition of the mezzotint is more successful at conveying the sense of dread and impending doom.

 
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