ALASTAIR SMART SHOW OF THE WEEK
Even an exhibition of half a dozen Rembrandt paintings would probably be inundated with visitors, such a guaranteed ticketseller is the Dutch Master.
Credit to the Scottish National Gallery, then, for coming up with a wholly original idea for a Rembrandt show: the impact he has had in Britain over the centuries.
The story starts in Rembrandt’s own lifetime, in 1629, when Charles I’s envoy in the Netherlands, Sir Robert Kerr, was left awestruck by three works he saw by the (then little-known, twentysomething) painter. He purchased them immediately as gifts for his King.
It took until the early 18th century, though, for Rembrandtmania to strike. British aristocrats suddenly started buying up canvas after canvas with abandon. Many of the famous Rembrandts in our public collections today came to Britain in that period: the National Gallery’s Belshazzar’s Feast, for example.
This exhibition, which opened as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, considers the Dutchman’s impression not just on collectors but on artists too. Portraiture in this country was especially affected by the likes of Allan Ramsay, Thomas Lawrence and others aspiring to Rembrandt’s sense of informality.
The show features 150 works – by both its star and his British followers – and it seems there has barely been an era when the former wasn’t popular.
Sadly, the curators don’t really suggest a reason why Rembrandt should have been so favoured in Britain, of all places. But there are enough masterpieces from the Royal Collection and elsewhere to make this show a hit.
As Rembrandt shows invariably are.
Belshazzar’s Feast, 1635. Below: selfportrait and Girl At A Window, 1645