Rem­brandt re­viewed

Art ex­pert ANTHONY SMITH takes a look at the mag­nif­i­cent col­lec­tion of Rem­brandt prints on show at Nor­wich Cas­tle gallery

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

Anthony Smith on the ex­hi­bi­tion at Nor­wich Cas­tle

BE­FORE I con­tinue, I would like to say just one thing: Rem­brandt:

Light­en­ing the Dark­ness is def­i­nitely a must-see ex­hi­bi­tion. We are priv­i­leged to have such in­ti­mate ac­cess to these works, un­doubt­edly some of the most im­por­tant fine art prints ever cre­ated, and the chance to look at them as if they were in our home. The Nor­wich Cas­tle gallery even pro­vides mag­ni­fiers to en­hance our view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The ex­hi­bi­tion pro­vides a unique op­por­tu­nity to view a huge se­lec­tion (83) of Rem­brandt’s prints; some of them ex­cep­tion­ally rare, im­por­tant in art his­tory terms as well as be­ing sim­ply mas­ter­ful works of art. These are in our Nor­wich Cas­tle col­lec­tion. There are also a small num­ber of oil paint­ings loaned from the Royal Col­lec­tion, the Na­tional Gallery and the Na­tional Gallery of Scot­land. This is an ex­hi­bi­tion that can open our eyes to the ge­nius and ob­ser­va­tional skills of Rem­brandt. Some of the works are minute in scale, yet this lack of size in no way di­min­ishes the skill of the artist nor the im­pact the works have on us. Sim­ple scratches on the etcher’s plate en­abled Rem­brandt to cre­ate im­ages rep­re­sent­ing age, frailty, or per­son­al­ity. Such is his ge­nius. These works don’t scream “LOOK AT ME!” but rather beckon you gen­tly to en­ter into a long-lost world, but one where the con­cerns and is­sues are iden­ti­cal to those we face to­day: re­la­tion­ships, wealth, love, re­li­gion, ill­ness and death. In many re­spects these are as sav­age as a Basquiat in their ex­e­cu­tion, with what ap­pear to be ran­dom cuts across the plate, yet each is in­ten­tional as can be seen in the fi­nal im­age. Walk­ing slowly from work to work, tak­ing time to ac­tu­ally look at them in such a wel­com­ing, un­hur­ried en­vi­ron­ment, you

are im­me­di­ately hit by the in­ti­macy of the works. These are not fashionable por­traits or homages to beauty. They cap­ture real peo­ple of the 17th cen­tury, warts and all, who have lived and who bear the scars of life. Be aware of Rem­brandt’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary use of light; this cre­ates the drama in much of his work. The Flight into

Egypt: a night piece 1651 is an ex­am­ple. Com­pare it to works of his con­tem­po­rary, Jan Lievens, a tal­ented artist, but lack­ing the dra­matic im­pact of look­ing at Rem­brandt’s work. Jo­hannes Ver­meer’s use of light comes close to Rem­brandt’s in his 1665 work Girl with a pearl

ear­ring, yet Ver­meer’s light is stark, ob­vi­ous. In Rem­brandt’s work it is as if a can­dle or a soft moon­light has been di­rected on the essence of the sub­ject. Also please take the time to look at the eyes of his sub­jects: they sparkle with life. His Self­por­trait 1639, is just one su­perb ex­am­ple of this. As an added at­trac­tion, there are rooms for the young­sters amongst us to dress up in cos­tume and take self­ies as well as an in­ter­est­ing dis­play of etch­ing tools and the con­se­quences of later work on orig­i­nal plates. As I left the ex­hi­bi­tion, it was some­what up­lift­ing for me to think that Rem­brandt never ven­tured be­yond his na­tive Hol­land… yet his ge­nius trav­elled the world. Rem­brandt: Light­en­ing the Dark­ness at Nor­wich Cas­tle ends on Jan­uary 7, so please do try to see it.Š

Above: Self-por­trait Wear­ing a soft cap, full face, head only ‘Rem­brandt aux trois mous­taches’

1634; Etch­ing on pa­per


The Flight into Egypt: Cross­ing a

Brook 1654. Etch­ing, en­grav­ing and dry­point on pa­per. 9.4 x 14.4 cm


The Pan­cake Woman (II/VII)

1635. Etch­ing on pa­per. 10.9 x 7.9 cm

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