Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), "Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill," showing Basilisk watermark, 1639. Etching, with touches of drypoint; retouched in black chalk. Collection of Yale University Art Gallery. Transmitted light photograph courtesy of Theresa Fairbanks-Harris.
OBERLIN, OH.- Etchings by Rembrandt figure prominently in the collections of many American academic museums, in part because they reward close looking and appeal to a wide range of learners and visitors. Lines of Inquiry: Learning from Rembrandt’s Etchings, an exhibition at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College that runs from February 6 through May 13, 2018, brings together 60 prints by the 17th-century Dutch master.
The exhibition has been co-organized by the Allen with Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. Lines of Inquiry is curated jointly by Oberlin’s Curator of European and American Art Andaleeb Badiee Banta and Andrew C. Weislogel, the Seymour R. Askin, Jr. ’47 Curator of Earlier European and American Art at Cornell. In addition to prints from Oberlin and Cornell, the show includes etchings on loan from Harvard, Princeton, Syracuse, Vassar, Yale, the University of Kansas, the Morgan Library & Museum, and private collections.
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill, 1639. Etching, with touches of drypoint, retouched in black chalk. Collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.
Rembrandt’s etchings have long been treasured for their technical innovation and perceptive portrayal of the human psyche. In the unique environment of the campus art museum, Rembrandt’s etchings have remained relevant even as pedagogical priorities have shifted, inspiring multidisciplinary teaching approaches, historical investigations, and technical studies. Lines of Inquiry highlights both the scope and subtlety of Rembrandt as an etcher of diverse subject matter, including portraits, genre scenes, landscapes, nudes, and religious narratives. In addition, this multifaceted exhibition examines the artist’s enduring status as a printmaker who continually experimented with processes and materials.
The exhibition explores how the technical study of these etchings and the papers on which they were printed reveal Rembrandt to be a savvy businessman. Research on the watermarks found in the papers can provide clues about the timelines of his print production and distribution. The exhibition introduces Cornell’s Watermark in Rembrandt Etchings (WIRE) project: a collaboration among museum staff, faculty members in art history and engineering, and students from many disciplines designed to digitally facilitate access to Rembrandt watermark scholarship. WIRE continues to pursue new watermark discoveries and expands knowledge about the artist through digital means. The exhibition includes a video on the WIRE project, along with a touchscreen interface that allows visitors to interact with the WIRE project database.
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Christ Healing the Sick (The Hundred Guilder Print), ca. 1648. Etching, engraving, and drypoint on Japanese gampi paper; second of two lifetime states. Collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College; Mrs. F. F. Prentiss Bequest, 1944.64.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue coauthored by Andaleeb Badiee Banta and Andrew C. Weislogel, which includes research on the history of Rembrandt prints in academic collections and their technical study through the WIRE project. The directors of the Oberlin and Cornell museums have contributed an essay recounting the extraordinary episode of the Allen’s secret guardianship of the Morgan’s Rembrandt etchings during World War II; it was written by Andria Derstine, John G. W. Cowles Director at the Allen, and Stephanie Wiles, the Richard J. Schwartz Director at Cornell.
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), St. Francis Beneath a Tree Praying, 1657. Drypoint and etching on oatmeal paper. Allen Memorial Art Museum, R.T. Miller Jr. Fund, 1952.31.
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Jan Six, 1647. Etching, engraving and drypoint. Collection of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College.
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Landscape with Three Gabled Cottages beside a Road, 1650. Etching and drypoint; third of three lifetime states. Collection of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University; Gift of Nancy and Nelson Schaenen, Jr., Class of 1950, 2016.074.