Rembrandt van Rijn, Nicolaes Ruts, 1631. Oil on mahogany panel, 46 x 34 3/8 inches (116.8 cm x 87.3 cm). The Frick Collection, New York.
NEW YORK, NY.- In the century that has passed since the collectors Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) and Frederik Johannes Lugt (1884-1970) began to acquire works by Rembrandt van Rijn, the world's view of the artist has changed dramatically. In the late nineteenth century the Dutch artist was perceived as an isolated and unrecognized genius, resistant to rules and increasingly withdrawn from society over time. Today he is generally viewed as an enormously ambitious artist whose extraordinary abilities and innovative style and technique brought him spectacular market success, international fame, and numerous followers during his lifetime.
This winter, Rembrandt's legacy is the subject of The Frick Collection's special exhibition Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and Lugt Collections, which presents a selection of paintings, prints, and drawings by the master and the diverse group of Dutch artists who constitute his school, among them Govert Flinck, Ferdinand Bol, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Carel Fabritius, Samuel van Hoogstraten, Nicolaes Maes, Philips Koninck, and Lambert Doomer. Together, these works represent the richness of the expansive body of work produced by Rembrandt and the individuals who sought him as a teacher or a figure for emulation.
The ensemble, drawn from the collections formed by Frick and Lugt, also reflects the ways these men of different backgrounds, means, and aspirations as collectors responded to the notions of Rembrandt that prevailed during their lifetimes. The exhibition, which is on view exclusively at the Frick, occupies three spaces: the Oval Room, the Cabinet, and the lower-level galleries. As a whole, the show runs from February 15 through May 15, but the sixty-five drawings and etchings on loan from the Lugt Collection (as well as a single work from the Robert Lehman Wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art) will remain on view through May 22. The exhibition is organized by Colin B. Bailey, the Frick's Associate Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator, in conjunction with Margaret Iacono, Assistant Curator, and Joanna Sheers, Curatorial Assistant.
Colin B. Bailey Comments, "This presentation is our second collaboration with the Fondation Custodia, which houses the collection of Frits Lugt. It follows the 2009 exhibition of his French eighteenth- and nineteenth-century drawings. Given that Lugt is best known as a scholar of Dutch drawings, we're thrilled to look at his Rembrandt school holdings alongside our own. Furthermore, in preparing for this project, we examined and treated our Rembrandt Self-Portrait, and the result is nothing short of a revelation. This masterpiece can now be seen in its original tonalities and nuanced brushwork and will return to the galleries this winter looking better than it has in decades."
THE LONG-STANDING APPEAL OF REMBRANDT
Rembrandt has been a household name and a subject of scholarly interest for centuries. His reputation never suffered from obscurity, unlike many of his contemporaries, among them Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer. Shifts in taste and the formulation of academic principles and classical ideals in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did prompt some criticism of his work, mainly concerning his unidealized figural style, his focus on emotional states rather than narrative clarity, and the dark palette and distinctively rugged brushwork of his later paintings. It was in light of these very qualities, perceived as “anticlassical,” that Rembrandt became a model and hero for the growing number of artists working outside the academic establishment in the nineteenth century. As he was increasingly celebrated, so developed the erroneous notion that he had been neglected in the past—a man of modern sensibilities and a rebellious spirit, unwilling to submit to popular taste or social mores. This romanticization of the artist, which characterized his work as overwhelmingly inwardlooking and autobiographical, persisted into the twentieth century and is reflected in different degrees in Frick’s and Lugt’s choices as collectors of Rembrandt. Both the American industrialist and the Dutch scholar had their first significant encounters with the artist’s work in the 1890s, a decade in which Rembrandt’s celebrity reached new heights, marked by a historic exhibition held of his work in 1898 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. With widely publicized discoveries of paintings by the master, Rembrandt’s oeuvre was rapidly expanding, while sales of his work, often from European aristocratic collections to American magnates, brought increasingly high prices.
In the Frick exhibition, five paintings by Rembrandt and his school from the museum’s permanent collection is on view in the Oval Room—four acquired by Henry Clay Frick between 1899 and 1919 and the fifth by the trustees in 1943 from the collection of J. Pierpont Morgan. Three of these works are unquestionable masterpieces by the artist—Nicolaes Ruts (1631), The Polish Rider (c. 1655), and the Self-Portrait (1658). Two of the paintings—Portrait of a Young Artist and Old Woman with a Book—were acquired by Frick as Rembrandts but are today attributed to artists in his entourage. This is the first time that all five paintings have been united in a special display. The Cabinet features a selection of prints by Rembrandt acquired by Henry Clay Frick at the end of his life. These works on paper are part of the founding bequest and therefore unavailable for loan and, for conservation reasons, are rarely on display.
REMBRANDT AS A SELF-PORTRAIT SUBJECT IN BOTH COLLECTIONS
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill, 1639, Etching. State I of II. Fondation Custodia
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill, 1639, Etching. State I of II. Fondation Custodia
In 1899, Frick acquired what he considered to be his first Rembrandt, the Portrait of a Young Artist (definitively attributed to a skilled follower in the 1960s). At $38,000, this was Frick’s most expensive purchase to date and marked the beginning of his acquisitions of major Old Master pictures, which would eventually include two of Rembrandt’s most famous works, the Self-Portrait of 1658 and The Polish Rider, as well as the Old Woman with Book (purchased by Frick as a Rembrandt but now recognized as the work of Carel van der Pluym). All of these paintings possess the qualities that reinforced the notion of the artist as an anti-classical non-conformist: limited and mostly somber in palette, evocative in lighting, and executed in a “rough manner”—a technique Rembrandt consciously developed over the course of his career. In the first decades of the twentieth century, such paintings seemed to epitomize Rembrandt and the qualities for which he was most celebrated at the time.
The famous Self-Portrait of 1658, painted by Rembrandt when he was fifty-two years old, was acquired by Frick in 1907 for the astounding price of $225,000. It recently underwent conservation treatment by Dorothy Mahon of The Metropolitan Museum of Art; with its layers of discolored varnish removed, the picture exhibits once again its splendid tonal variation and Rembrandt’s sensitive observation of light and shadow as well as his expert handling of the brush. In this work, the largest of the numerous self-portraits he produced over the course of his career, the artist’s body is presented in an unusual frontal pose, barely contained by the picture plane. With his masterful layering of opaque and translucent paint and deliberately unblended strokes, the artist suggests the timeweathered flesh of his face and hands. Subtle dabs of red paint give life to the dark eyes shaded by the beret. From Frick’s lifetime through much of the twentieth century, this picture, which Rembrandt painted two years after his infamous bankruptcy, has been interpreted in relation to the artist’s troubled financial circumstances. In this view, the painting represents the physical toll of Rembrandt’s hardship and his personal transcendence over it—the silver-tipped rattan cane doubling as a sceptre and the frontal pose recalling royal portraiture. The grandeur of this image, achieved through both its presentation of subject and dazzling application of paint, suggests other motivations and interests on the part of the artist.
At thirty-three, Rembrandt presented himself as a sixteenth-century gentleman courtier in his Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill, from the collection of Frits Lugt. In this etching of 1639 (a rare impression of the first state of the print and one of a nearly complete set of Rembrandt prints acquired by Lugt), his costume and pose allude to portraits by the Italian Renaissance masters Raphael and Titian that were in Amsterdam during Rembrandt’s time. In the Frick self-portrait, Rembrandt similarly appears without brushes, palette, or any such traditional attributes of his profession and, as in the etching, he wears sumptuous historical costume, along with garments that are Polish and Middle Eastern in derivation: a heavy fur cloak, golden jerkin, white linen shirt, sparkling brocade collar, and red sash with a silver pomegranate ornament. Like the etched self-portrait, the Frick portrait has also been connected to well-known prototypes, but of Northern origin: the fur cloak and prominent placement of the hands recall images from Anthony Van Dyck’s Iconographia, a famous collection of engraved portraits of artists, statesmen, scholars, and other distinguished figures that was first published in 1645. This portrait series, in which painters enjoy a prominent place, belongs to a genre of depictions of artists that has its origins in the Renaissance concept of painting as a liberal art rather than a manual craft. At the same time, however, he calls attention to his craftsmanship with his especially broad handling of the paint emphasizing the materiality of the oil medium as well as his distinctive touch.
ANOTHER ICONIC REMBRANDT PURCHASED BY HENRY CLAY FRICK
The Polish Rider was painted by Rembrandt around 1655 and acquired by Frick through Roger Fry in 1910, thirteen years after its momentous rediscovery in a castle in Poland. This picture of a lone rider in military costume has evaded convincing identification as any specific biblical, literary, historical, or allegorical subject. It is instead a variation on the theme of turbaned men and other exotic and heroic figures who appear earlier in standing images executed by Rembrandt, but here imbued with the qualities and motifs of history painting: heroic action, dramatic lighting, and a representational setting, with a brooding sky and ambiguous architectural structures in the mountainous terrain in the background. The attribution of this painting was at the center of a heated debate in the 1980s, now settled in favor of Rembrandt’s authorship. Early twentieth-century viewers of the picture, though incorrect in identifying it as a portrait, were right to regard it as exemplary of Rembrandt’s work. Like the Self-Portrait, it demonstrates the artist’s ability to make mundane subjects appear monumental, just as he could make monumental subjects accessible on an emotional level, blurring the lines between his history paintings and his genre scenes and portraits.
THE COLLECTING EYE OF FRITS LUGT
The lower-level galleries feature works on paper acquired by Frits Lugt, whose extensive holdings of drawings by Rembrandt and his school have recently been catalogued by Peter Schatborn, author of a two-volume publication. Schatborn’s selection for this book on the Lugt Collection’s finest such works has also served as the basis for this portion of the special exhibition. All eighteen drawings by Rembrandt in that collection are shown, including such well-known masterpieces as Woman Leaning on a Window Sill, Interior with Saskia in Bed, The Windmill on the Bulwark, and Shah Jahan. Among the prints from the Lugt Collection is a group of Rembrandt self-portraits that record the artist in a variety of costumes, settings, and humors and create a powerful dialogue with the Frick’s painted Self-Portrait. These works are complemented by thirty-six master drawings by Rembrandt’s most prominent pupils and students.
Although Frederik “Frits” Lugt was thirty-five years younger than Frick an would live to see dramatic changes in the understanding and boundaries of Rembrandt’s oeuvre, his early encounters with the master’s work in the 1890s shaped his responses to and lifelong passion for his art. Today known worldwide for his essential publications on collectors’ marks and sales catalogues, Lugt showed an exceptionally precocious and intense interest in art as a regular visitor to museums in his native Amsterdam and as an attendee, at the age of fourteen, of the 1898 Rembrandt retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum. During the next two years, he wrote a biography of the artist (published by the Fondation Custodia in 1997) and purchased one of Rembrandt’s etchings at a flea market—intimations of his future success as a scholar and collector. With the connoisseurial skills Lugt cultivated as an employee of an Amsterdam auction house and the ample financial means that came with his marriage in 1910, he became one of the greatest collectors of Old Master prints and drawings, acquiring thousands of sheets from various European schools and periods. While he stressed the importance of selectivity, Lugt, unlike Frick, aimed for a certain degree of comprehensiveness. He actively acquired drawings by Rembrandt’s many pupils and followers, embracing questions of attribution and assembling representative bodies of their work that reveal the development of their artistry and technique over time. The autograph works by Rembrandt that Lugt acquired span his career and include finished sheets as well as studies and sketches, some made in connection with paintings, many created as exercises or for personal pleasure, and others possibly intended to serve as models for his pupils. For Lugt, these works were displays of the artist’s extraordinary ability to render form and light through line, as well as intimate and spontaneous expressions of his fellow Amsterdammer’s observations, thoughts, and feelings—documents of the humanity with which Rembrandt viewed the world.
Woman with a Child Frightened by a Dog, which dates from the middle of Rembrandt’s first decade as an independent master in Amsterdam, exhibits the artist’s dazzlingly rapid penwork. With the single strokes that define the baby’s brow and chubby cheek and the squiggle of ink that represents his open mouth, Rembrandt conveys the child’s apprehension. He creates the illusion of depth and forward projection through the most minimal means, varying the amount of pressure he applies to his pen. Once interpreted in relation to the infants he and his wife, Saskia, had lost before having their only surviving child, Titus, in 1641, sheets such as Woman with a Child Frightened by a Dog, whether produced for personal pleasure or for use in his studio, are exercises in translating into line the uninhibited emotions of children.
The 1640s are traditionally characterized as a decade of intense introspection for Rembrandt, the beginning of his inward turn, in part as a reaction to the illness and death of his wife in 1642. The drawing known as Interior with Saskia in Bed is thought to represent his wife and their maid in their fashionable townhouse on the Sint-Anthoniesbreestraat in Amsterdam (today the Rembrandthuis). Over the bold, thick lines with which he laid out the scene, Rembrandt applied an unusually extensive amount of both brown and gray wash, not to define space but to color the composition as if it were a painting. For Lugt, who acquired this drawing in 1919, early in his life as a collector, the artist’s special care in finishing the drawing was an expression of his tenderness for his wife and a demonstration of the loving attention he paid to her during her illness. Rembrandt’s critical acclaim and growing fame brought him many pupils. These young artists sought him out for both longterm apprenticeships and shorter periods of training that followed apprenticeships elsewhere. As in other workshops in various parts of Europe, drawing was of central importance to the education that Rembrandt offered his pupils, as it was the medium through which they developed their visual and manual dexterity. A large number of the sheets featured in the exhibition date to the years Rembrandt’s students were working outside his studio in independent idioms that both derive and depart from their master’s example. While their departure from his distinctive technique and style reflect their exposure to other artistic currents as well as the vicissitudes of taste, they also demonstrate a close association with an artist whose work ran the gamut of subjects and genres. Even in the drawings that seem most divergent from Rembrandt’s own, the vestiges of their training are never completely effaced.
Rembrandt’s first documented pupil in Amsterdam was Govert Flinck, who studied with the master for about a year beginning in 1635, shortly after Rembrandt had established his own studio. Around this time, Rembrandt painted some of his major history paintings, among them his famed Danaë of 1636, a mythological scene featuring a lifesize reclining nude. Flinck became an independent master in 1636 and went on to have a successful career as a portraitist and history painter. In the 1640s, he gathered regularly with a group of artists to draw from live nude models hired for the purpose—a controversial practice at the time. In his Reclining Female Nude of the 1640s, the model rests one arm over her head, taking a famous pose from ancient statuary and Renaissance art. Through his deft handling of his media, Flinck creates a vivid rendering of a living, breathing woman.
Flinck does not draw the contour of the figure in a continuous line, but frequently lifts the black chalk off the paper in a series of connected and overlapping curved strokes that capture, and even accentuate, the model’s undulating silhouette and the way in which the flesh of her torso creases and folds over itself where her body bends. The question of idealizing a figure was a contentious one during this period. Rembrandt himself made a show of his refusal to idealize the human form by depicting fleshy, thick-waisted female nudes. Although a slimmer figure than Rembrandt’s typical models, Flinck’s reclining woman reveals a similar interest in lifelikeness. Another of Rembrandt’s pupils, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, is presumed to have trained with Rembrandt for a few years before becoming an independent master and painter of multifigure scenes of various subjects in 1641. His Youth Smoking is one of a series of brush and wash studies of a male figure engaged in various seated, standing, and reclining activities. Rembrandt only occasionally made drawings with brush alone, and when he did, he applied rapid and often linear strokes, unlike the precise and painterly application of wash in this sheet, dated to the 1650s. Nonetheless, van den Eeckhout’s extraordinary control of his liquid medium and masterful handling of the brush are reminiscent of his master’s work in pen and ink.