London has some of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries, but very occasionally it is worth going further afield for an exceptional exhibition. One of these exhibitions is the All the Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam which features 22 Rembrandt paintings, 60 drawings and more than 300 prints of the artist’s etchings.
Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leiden in the Netherlands in 1606 and died in 1669 in Amsterdam and is considered one of the greatest artists in the history of art. It was in Amsterdam that Rembrandt made his name with his prints and paintings, he became a famous painter in his lifetime and earned enough money to buy a large house in Amsterdam.
The exhibition spans the whole of Rembrandt’s artistic career in which he records the height of the Dutch Golden Age when Amsterdam became the focus of a remarkable economic miracle that saw land reclaimed, dykes built and grand canal houses constructed for wealthy merchants and financiers. It was this remarkable transformation that provided the subject matter for Rembrandt including landscapes, portraits, and group portraits. Although Rembrandt painted portraits of merchants and burghers of the city, he also depicted day-to-day scenes of life in the street with sketches of beggars, tradespeople and street musicians.
Rembrandt is famous for his self portraits and two portraits in the exhibition illustrate the both ends of the artist’s career. Self-Portrait (1628), shows a confident Rembrandt at the beginning of his career.
In contrast, Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul (1661) shows a world weary artist who was dealing with personal and financial difficulties.
In the various rooms, oil paintings are surrounded by drawings and prints to give a full range of the artists abilities. Part of Rembrandt’s genius is the relationship between the painting and the viewer, The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild, Known as ‘The Syndics’, (1662) look up as the viewer has interrupted a important meeting.
Rembrandt captures a tender moment between Isaac and Rebecca, Known as ‘The Jewish Bride’ ( c. 1665 – c. 1669), the thickly applied paint provides a depth that heightens the emotions of the couple.
Rembrandt’s wide range of painting includes still life like Still Life with Peacocks (c. 1639), the unusual subject matter includes a peacock hung upside down in a pantry. Peacocks were considered a delicacy for the Amsterdam elite and were used as a filling for pasties.
The artist is less known for his landscapes, however the exhibition includes Landscape with a Stone Bridge, (c. 1638) which plays with light and dark within an approaching storm.
Rembrandt excelled at biblical and historical scenes, the exhibition features The Denial of St Peter (1660), Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (1630) and Tobit and Anna with the Kid (1626).
Portraits like Johannes Wtenbogaert (1633), Portrait of a Woman, Possibly Maria Trip (1639), Portrait of Dr Ephraïm Bueno, (1645 – 1647) and Portrait of Haesje Jacobsdr van Cleyburg (16340 illustrate why the artist was in great demand with Amsterdam’s elite.
The introspection in the portrait Rembrandt’s Son Titus in a Monk’s Habit (1660) may reflect the artist’s often fractious relationship with his son.
If you can tear yourself away from the paintings, it is worth getting close up to the many drawings and prints to get some idea of Rembrandt’s remarkable draughtsmanship. Ironically, one of Rembrandt’s most famous work, The Night Watch is not in the exhibition but is featured in another gallery in the Rijksmuseum.
This fascinating exhibition provides plenty of insights into one of the world’s great artists and the Dutch Golden Age. Rembrandt was inspired by the dramatic transformation of the city around him and many of the Amsterdam’s elite saw Rembrandt as part of a Dutch cultural renaissance that matched the economic revolution.
The crowds attending the exhibition is an indication that even 350 years after his death, Rembrandt still holds a fascination for the Amsterdam public and beyond. This comprehensive exhibition is a worthy tribute to a remarkable artist who defies easy catergorisation with his intense portrayal of humanity in all its guises.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Rijksmuseum website here
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