Rembrandt Drawings and Prints at the Met & Morgan

A friend just reminded me that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is also honoring Rembrandt’s 400th birthday (see my post from last Saturday) with a special show drawn from their collection: Rembrandt and His Circle: Drawings and Prints (July 11 – Oct 15, 2006).

If you’re in range of New York, this is a wonderful and rare opportunity to see 44 drawings and etchings by the master and 14 more by his students and apprentices.

It’s rare because drawings are so fragile that they can’t be on permanent exhibition, exposure to light damages them. I don’t mean to give the impression that they’ll dissolve into smoke on being exposed to light, like the Wicked Witch of the West’s Beautiful Wickedness melting under Dorothy’s bucket of water, it’s just a matter of light damage accrued over time.

In essence you can think of a given drawing of having a “half life” of exposure to light over time. Curators must calculate the value of exhibiting drawings against the longevity of the works. (What good is it to preserve them if no one gets to see them?) You’ll also notice that drawings are often exhibited in rooms with reduced lighting levels.

I also neglected to mention that there are two shows at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York: From Rembrandt to van Gogh: Dutch Drawings from the Morgan and Celebrating Rembrandt: Etchings from the Morgan (both July 15-Oct 1 2006). (As I mentioned in my previous post, there is also a major exhibit in the fall at the National Gallery in D.C.: Strokes of Genius: Rembrandt’s Prints and Drawings Nov 19, 2006 – March 18, 2007).

Don’t let the “drawn from their own collection” description put you off. The Morgan and the Met have some of Rembrandt’s finest drawings in their superb collections.

The Met’s collection includes Cottage among Trees (above), one of my personal favorites. There is a nice feature on the Met’s site that allows you to view this drawing in a zoomable window. Not as good as the Rijksmuseum’s posting of wonderfully large full size images, but the next best thing. You can zoom in and see details the you don’t usually see that well in book reproductions, like the wagon on the hill beside the cottage.

It’s the lines themselves that are so fascinating to me, you can get lost in them close up, marveling at their fluidity, seeming casualness and amazing variety, and then pull back and realize again that they are part of the larger whole. I’ve often thought that small sections of Rembrandt’s drawings and paintings, extracted and enlarged many times, would make more interesting non-representational art than most of the intentionally non-representational art produced in the latter half of the 20th Century.

I usually take a pocket magnifying glass to exhibits of old master drawings.

All the more remarkable is the knowledge that drawings like this one were not meant for sale or even as gifts to patrons. This is Rembrandt walking around the countryside and drawing for his own benefit. This is drawing at its purest and finest.


Jeff Jones

Jeff Jones
In a style that was markedly influenced by his contemporaries Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta, Jeff Jones created fantasy and science fiction illustration through the 1960’s and 70’s that was distinguished by strong use of color and texture and a wonderful sense of line within his painterly delineation of form.

Jones was also a comics artist and for a time shared a studio with Berni Wrightson, Michael Kaluta and Barry Windsor-Smith (see my previous post on Windsor-Smith). For a few years in the 1970’s Jones contributed a regular one page strip to the National Lampoon called Idyl, which never seemed to be about anything exactly, but was beautifully drawn in Jones’ distinctive pen and ink style that is somehow simultaneously spare and lush.

In addition to the fantasy artists who informed his early work, Jones has explored the territory carved out by illustrators like N.C. Wyeth as well as romantic painters like John William Waterhouse and James McNeil Whistler.

Over the years Jones moved away from illustration and began to paint directly for gallery exhibition. At the same time his style evolved, picking up colors and compositional elements from Expressionism. His more recent work is sometimes more fully realized, sometimes loose, but always filled with variety in color, texture and subject.


Monster Allergy Animated Series

There is a new web site in support of the Monster Allergy animated series that has been developed out of the Italian comics created by Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa along with Iginio Straffi.

I profiled Barbucci and Canepa and their Sky-Doll series in March and mentioned then again in June.

I’m not certain how involved they are in the development of the TV series, but it promises to be a cut above the usual fare just from the look of the previews and stills from the initial episode.

The protagonist is Zick, a boy who is able to see the invisible monsters in his home (and all around us) by virtue of his allergy to them. The site is still not filled out in many areas, but has some information on the characters and concept, and bears watching for future additions.

The development of the show for US audiences is a joint venture between Kids’ WB, Cartoon Network and Rainbow S.r.I., the Italian animation production company. Monster Allergy will be part of the Kids WB lineup in the fall.


NFB Animated Shorts

Over the years the film industry has evidenced support for short films, particularly short animated films, that is reminiscent of the kind of outspokenly warm and generous relationship that upper class Victorians reserved for out-of-wedlock children.

The problem, of course, has been distribution. Since the demise of the practice of showing shorts before feature films to give the movie goer something else to come into the theater for (replaced by the much more sensible model of showing 30 minutes of ads), the theaters have wanted nothing to do with them. Likewise, Television has had no idea how to make money off of individual shorts. If it’s not a continuing shill for a line of toys and/or sugar-coated cereals, what good is it?

That distribution problem finally changed, of course, with the advent of the Internet, and short animations have experienced a resurgence, but prior to that there were a few bastions of support that kept short animations viable. One of the most notable and reliable has been the National Film Board of Canada whose support for short-form animation has been unswerving and is ongoing.

The NFB site is currently focusing on their history of support for animated shorts and has placed 50 of them online for your viewing pleasure.

They have also posted information about the history of the NFB, the techniques used by the filmmakers and the NFB animation studios.

Images at left, top to bottom: Richard Condi: The Big Snit, Jamie Mason: The Magic of Anansi, Yuan Zhang: Roses Sing on New Snow.

Link via Boing Boing


Rembrandt 400

Now here’s an occasion worth celebrating.

Today marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, the rootenist, tootenist, high-falootenist six-brush packing hombre ever to put lines and colors on a surface! Yow!

Rembrandt, as you might guess, is one of my very favorite artists of any kind, any time, any which way you look at it.

He was perhaps the most fluid, facile and prolific draughtsman in the history of art and is often referred to as the finest of painters. I mean this guy was the man.

His paintings have an immediacy and a presence that carry the impact of the most powerful of old master techniques, with incredibly realized faces glowing out at you from the lusterous depths of layers of transparent glazes, combined with a stunningly modern application of paint in bold physical splashes. I mean big, thick chunks of white for highlights right on top of layer after layer of smooth, painstakingly painted tones, Rembrandt was both a culmination of the traditions that came before him and a leap into the future.

Rembrandt’s paintings are quiet, rowdy, calm, violent, introspective, boisterous, dramatic, soothing, jarring, dark and brilliant.

And his drawings… ah, Rembrandt’s drawings… what a world they invite you into. Seemingly simple quick strokes of reed pen and bistre ink that captured the world in front of his eyes like a magic lantern, brilliant scribbles that are towns, houses, trees, people and animals created out of so few lines and such expressive strokes that it could only be the result of some kind of artistic alchemy, Rembrandt’s drawings are the place where pen and paper fell in love.

Did I mention that he was a master of chiaroscuro, the creation of form though strong contrasts of dark and light, giving his work extraordinary drama and power? No? Well, I should mention that. Did I mention that he was astonishingly prolific, leaving us over 600 paintings, 300 etchings and more than 2000 drawings (and God knows how many have been lost)? No? Well, I should mention that. And did I mention that he was probably the finest etcher that ever lived? No? Well, I should mention that too.

Rembrandt’s paintings, etchings and drawings are impressive enough in books and online reproductions, but you must see them in person to understand.

I am very much looking forward to a major exhibit: Strokes of Genius: Rembrandts Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery in Washington this November.

See my post about the Rembrandt vs. Caravaggio exhibit for more information on the celebration of his 400th in Amsterdam, including special exhibits, events and even stage plays, and my post about Rembrandt’s Drawings for more of my effusive ramblings about how cool he was.

Then go to Jonathan Janson’s amazing site devoted to the artist and his works: Rembrandt: life , paintings, etchings, drawings and self protraits, specifically to the page listing museums that have Rembrandt works in their collections, look up a museum near you and visit a Rembrandt today.

Lok Jansen writes to add that the Rijksmuseum has superb, high-resolution images online of many Rembrandt works. Choose an image from the thumbnail scroller and click on it to view that image, then click on “Enlarge” for the hi-res version.


Bernhard Vogel

Bernhard VogelI’m not always fond of artists who engage in the loose application of watercolor. Too often it results in a feeling of formlessness and lack of control over the materials.

German watercolorist Bernhard Vogel manages to make his application of the paint seem as loose as can be while still exercising the kind of restraint that makes his images feel strongly composed and skillfully drawn.

Also, unlike those who try to force geometry onto forms in an attempt to induce some kind of awkward Cubist quality, Vogel employs light lines and bands of color to point out hidden geometry in his forms, without losing the forms themselves.

One of the most appealing things about Vogel’s work is his application of textures, apparently applied with resists, scrapings and spatters, that give his paintings a lively quality and an appealing variety of surface.

At times some of his forms can almost dissolve but there always seems to be enough underpinning of draughtsmanship to keep them solidly planted in this world.

The more defined defined forms in his landscapes, for example, are often rimmed by suggestions of buildings and trees, with blocks and wedges of textured color suggesting rather than representing landscape elements.

The majority of his work seems to be landscape, but I was particularly taken with his still life paintings. Many of them are of somewhat typical subjects, wine bottles, fruit, plates, etc, but enlivened by Vogel’s touch for suggestion, interpretation and abstraction (in the true sense of “abstract”, which means “to distill the essence of”, rather than “to create something non-representational”).


Link courtesy of Cliff Drane