Saturday, April 21, 2012

Rembrandt Comes to Town

One of the pleasures of living in New York is that every once in awhile a major work of art visits the Met.   One of Rembrandt's greatest self-portraits, the so-called Kenwood Self Portrait, saved me the trouble of having to fly across the Atlantic to see it.

These are all my pictures taken with my trusty little digital camera.

The painting was covered with glass, so what looks like blue dust in this picture, and the one below, is reflections in the glass.

Rembrandt painted this self-portrait in 1661 when he was 63 years old.   He made this self portrait as he was bankrupt and impoverished after decades in which he was the toast of Amsterdam and one of the most famous artists in Europe. In this year, Rembrandt's last major commission, The Conspiracy of Julius Civilis for the new Amsterdam City Hall (now the Royal Palace), was rejected and sent back to him. His son Titus and his second common law wife, Hendrickje Stoeffels, tried valiantly to protect Rembrandt from further predations by his creditors.

It was in these last lean years that Rembrandt painted some of his boldest and most brilliant work.  This painting was one of the most daring of the 17th century.   Just a few well placed massive strokes of the brush suggest his left hand holding brushes, a palette, and a mahlstick.  The grainy texture of his face, with the thick paint almost sculpted into form with the back end of his brush, glows with the reflected sunlight coming into the room.

The Amsterdam public and critics dismissed work like this as old-fashioned and the clumsy attempts of a senile has-been to recapture something of his former glory.  Rembrandt looks very unbowed in this self portrait.  He knew how good he was even if the rest of the Dutch public clamored for polished neo-classicism in those days.  The circles in the back of the painting may refer to an old story in Karel Van Mander's Lives of the Artists in which someone asked Giotto to prove his skill with a brush.  Supposedly he did so by drawing a perfect circle free hand on the wall of his studio with his brush.  So Rembrandt in those circles, and in this painting, proves to us that he belongs in Giotto's company.

1 comment:

June Butler said...

This post turned me green. I'm quite sure I will never see this painting except in photos. I credit Rembrandt at the Met with being first to touch me in my deepest part and draw me into a love affair with painting. His art changed my life.