2 March 2015

Late Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum

I missed this winter’s Rembrandt: The Late Works at the National Gallery in London, but what better excuse could there be for a trip to Amsterdam where the same exhibition is continuing at the Rijksmuseum as Late Rembrandt. This is almost certainly the most significant exhibition I will ever post about on this blog, and, as such, readers would probably benefit far more from articles about the NG show by Simon Schama (“jaw-dropping”) or Martin Gayford (“the supreme painter of the inner life”). However, even the best critics seem to have been overwhelmed by The Late Works, so here’s my tuppenceworth.

Titus at his Desk, 1655 (left) Titus in Monk’s Habit, 1660 (right)
This is, it seems, the first exhibition ever to address “late” Rembrandt. The painter’s dates are 1606-1669, the earliest exhibit is dated “about 1648–55” but there are few before 1652, so most are from the painter’s mid-40s until his death at 63. Life had gone well for Rembrandt until early middle age. For a time he had been one of the most successful painters in Holland in the period known as its Golden Age. He had bought a splendid family house in Amsterdam (see below) with borrowed money when he was 33, but three years later his wife, Saskia, died. During perennial financial difficulties he would eventually lose the house. Three of Saskia’s four children would die, only his son, Titus (above), reaching adulthood; Hendrickje Stoffels (probably below), his housekeeper who became his mistress and mother of his daughter, would die in 1663; Titus died the year before his father.

A Woman bathing in a Stream, 1654 
This painting was in the unfashionable less finely finished style which Rembrandt had adopted after 1650. His The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis (c1661–62, below top) was rejected for this reason after having been commissioned for the Amsterdam town hall, although at the same time he continued to produce more conventional works like The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild (1662, known as The Syndics, below lower).

There are far too many magnificent pictures in Late Rembrandt for them all to be reported here. Just a few that I was struck by include the Portrait of Jan Six (c1654, below left) and the Portrait of an Elderly Man (1667, below right) – old chaps are easy for me to identify with of course:

And who could not be moved by poor Lucretia (1664, below left and 1666, below right):

Similarly, The Apostle Batholomew (1657, below left and 1661, below right):

Among the portraits, Portrait of a Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan (c1656–58, below), was, like The Syndics, more conventional but no less impressive:

As with the Rubens show currently at the Royal Academy in London, the Late Rembrandt curators have avoided chronology and organised around abstract nouns, eg Intimacy, Contemplation, Emulation and so on. This means that the six Rembrandt Self Portraits here are separated after an introductory trio; they are: SP 1659, SP as the Apostle Paul 1661, SP as Zeuxis 1662, SP with Two Circles 1665-9 (also in the poster above), SP at the Age of 63 1669, SP 1669 (clockwise from top left):

Anyone seeing the Amsterdam version of Late Rembrandt/Rembrandt: The Late Works, which is truly deserving of the term "unmissable", will have the opportunity to view some of his other major works elsewhere in the Rijksmuseum and to visit his house and financial millstone, now a museum, Het Rembrandthuis. These will be covered in a later post here.

Late Rembrandt continues until 17 May.

23 February 2015

Rubens at the RA

Simply put by London’s Royal Academy*, the intention of Rubens and His Legacy Van Dyck to C├ęzanne is to “bring together masterpieces produced during his lifetime, as well as major works by great artists who were influenced by him in the generations that followed” and to do so “through the lens of six themes: power, lust, compassion, elegance, poetry and violence”.

 The show starts with Poetry as landscape and makes a good case for Rubens (1577-1640) as a master for Constable (possibly fresh in visitors’ minds from the V&A), Turner (early, not late as recently at Tate Britain) and Gainsborough; as an example, Rubens’ Landscape with a Rainbow (c 1630, below top) and Constable’s Cottage at East Bergholt (c1833, below lower):

And under the same theme, Rubens’ The Garden of Love (c1635, below top) has its successors, for example Watteau’s Pleasures of the Ball (1715-17, below lower). Given its size, the Rubens is a remarkable loan from the Prado, impressive in colour and composition, but even an admirer of the baroque might wonder about the number of putti.

The Elegance theme is an exploration of Rubens’ portraiture - Portrait of Maria Grimaldi and Dwarf (c1607, below left) - particularly in Genoa where Anthony van Dyck - A Genoese Noblewoman and Her Son (c1626, below right) - would follow him from Antwerp. Reynolds, Lawrence and Gainsborough were the English examples of other portrait painters in sway to Rubens.

Power reflects aspects of Rubens’ access as a diplomat to European monarchy. The RA has provided an informative close-up visual display of his ceiling for the Banqueting House in Whitehall. I’ve only been able to study The Apotheosis of James I (1635 below) previously at a distance - an enjoyable break from the death by PowerPoint going on below. Rubens’ masterpiece was a major influence on Thornhill’s Painted Hall at Greenwich Hospital completed nearly a century later.

Compassion covers the religious works which Rubens’ studio produced in quantity. His St Cecilia (1620, below top) was donated to the Vienna Akademie in 1821, becoming the model for an allegory of music by 23-year old Gustav Klimt (1885, below lower) and given the same name.

This is followed contrastingly by Violence with its striking Tiger, Lion and Leopard Hunt from Rennes (1616, below and in the poster above), inspiring to Delacroix and others:

The show ends with Lust, the label for Rubens’ mythological nudes which reveal his ability to capture figure movement and skin hue, for example Pan and Syrinx (1617 below):

There are numerous works by painters following Rubens’ example – Daumier, Cezanne, Renoir - an examination developed further by La Pelegrina, an accompanying selection by Jenny Saville of “paint made flesh” by painters who, she feels, connect with Rubens, including Picasso, Freud, Bacon, Auerbach, Sarah Lucas and Saville herself.

Rubens and His Legacy continues at the RA until 10 April. Although there are some of Rubens’ masterpieces on show, the ratio of his works to those by his followers, some rather dull, is nearing the acceptable minimum.

* From Royal Academy What’s On Spring 2015