Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Am I Rembrandt?

It's a rather pleasant walk from my place, through Dulwich Park, and in to the 'village' and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I'd made it to see Am I Rembrandt? Part of their Major Discoveries season (of which I'd already written about Rubens). It's a small, slight show but with my National Art card I can gain access to this often expensive gallery for free. When I actually remember to use it it comes in very handy.

This season focuses on one painting and asks questions about how we can be sure of who painted it. The curators then flesh the thing out with some other works by the artist in question and some by his followers. It's a bit dry, a bit academic - but the art itself, from the Dutch Golden Age, is still quite charming.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is generally considered to be one of the greatest painters of not just the Dutch Golden age, that period in the 17th century when the Netherlands was the foremost economic and military power on Earth, but of all time. Influenced by Rubens and the Baroque as well as Caravaggio, by way of the Utrecht Caravaggists, he imbued his work with an intensely personal slant that came from time spent observing Amsterdam's Jewish population.

Rembrandt - Self-portrait wearing a feather bonnet (1635)
Self-portrait wearing a feather bonnet was considered to be by the hand of the master until 1690 - and then it wasn't - until 2010. Now it is again. Experts eh? Maybe Michael Gove was right all along*. The work is on loan from the National Trust property Buckland Abbey and it was news to me that Rembrandt, who'd I'd imagined had been famous and rich in his lifetime, had been buried in a pauper's grave when he died in 1669. It seems this isn't because he was unsuccessful but rather that he was a man who lived beyond his means.
His Girl at a window, an even more famous work, had been considered so lifelike at the time that passers by mistook it for a real girl. Even though the technique of having the sitter lean out of the frame had been utilised by both Leonardo and Durer more than a century earlier.
*Michael Gove was not right all along.

Rembrandt - Girl at a window (1645)

Rembrandt - Jacob de Gheyn III (1632)
The engraver Jacob de Gheyn (above) and A young man (below) are both still considered to be the work of Rembrandt but A man in armour is no longer. It once was but now attribution is disputed. Art historian, and 'aesthete', Kenneth Clark felt it was possibly the work of Gerrit Dou, a student and contemporary of Rembrandt. I don't know how they work this stuff out and, to be fair, the gallery didn't do a great job of informing me.

Rembrandt - A young man, possibly the artist's son, Titus (1668)

Imitator of Rembrandt - A man in armour (19c)
John Constable's copy of another Rembrand student's, Aert de Gelder's, Jacob's dream was included in the one room exhibition along with de Gelder's original because de Gelder's work was once also thought to be that of Rembrandt. .
 It all goes to show how difficult it is to be certain who painted what and when. It's possible that many of the paintings we enjoy today will one day be ascribed to different artists to the ones they are now. Having said that it made for only a mildly interesting show and certainly couldn't compare to the rather wonderful Winifred Knights exhibition they hosted last year. A more thorough look at Rembrandt's work would be much welcomed.

John Constable (after Aert de Gelder) - Studies of Jacob's dream (1830s)

Aert de Gelder - Jacob's Dream (1715)

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