I have been meaning to expand my coverage of painters, particularly Flemish painters from the Dutch “Golden Age” and I have decided to begin with another of my favorites, Gerrit Dou (1613-1675). He created exquisite small, often dark paintings that often remind us of his contemporaries. These posts will cover paintings from multiple museums, rather than focusing on a single collection. After learning to paint from his father, a glass engraver, Gerrit Dou was apprenticed to a distinguished printmaker and glass painter, receiving additional formal artistic training from the Leiden glaziers' guild. At 15, he was appointed to the enviable position of apprentice in Rembrandt's studio, where he studied for six years. After Rembrandt left Leiden in 1631, his influence on Dou waned. Dou continued to paint on wood in a small scale but adopted cooler colors and a more highly refined technique characteristic of the fijnschilders (fine painters), a group of Leiden artists who painted small, highly finished pictures. Portraits in impasto gave way to domestic genre subjects (everyday scenes), enamel-smooth and rich in accessory details. These paintings are small, remember that you can click on any image in this website to enlarge them.
When we were at the Getty Center, I was surprised to see a lovely collection of Rembrandts and particularly this recently famous self portrait done early in his career, painted on copper. A crucial aspect of Rembrandt's development was his intense study of people, objects, and their surroundings “from life,” as is obvious in paintings as his early self-portraits and the Saint Paul in Prison of 1627. Even by Dutch standards, Rembrandt's preoccupation with direct observation was exceptional and continued throughout his career. This painting captures the universal emotion of laughter and joi de vivre of life which contrasts so sharply with his later self portraits. Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum said “The Getty Museum possesses the most significant collection of early Rembrandts in the United States, and if you had asked what addition would best cap it off, the answer would have been a self-portrait, which many regard as his greatest and most sustained achievement. But the chances of finding such a work seemed negligible, until the rediscovery of this painting in 2007. It is unquestionably one of the most remarkable works of art to become available in recent memory.”
When we visited the painting floor of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, we turned a corner into a fairly large room filled with paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn. Of course I have decided to do a post of the paintings. Rembrandt often painted pictures of the Apostle Paul so Paul obviously had a major impact on his life. In his paintings, he tried to capture the force and emotion of Paul's letters. In about 1659, Rembrandt finished another painting of the Apostle Paul. It is a peaceful scene of Paul writing letters at his desk. It is interesting to note the contrast between this picture and the exhilarating action of the Baroque paintings of Paul. Rembrandt, instead of emphasizing the action, portrays Paul as the embodiment of profound meditation. A sword, the trademark of Paul, leans in darkness against the wall. While his face basks in radiant light, the rest of the painting is dark with heavy colors. The depth of vision and feeling is seen with the deep, thoughtful gaze of the apostle. Paul's passionate concern for the gospel is vividly captured by Rembrandt. The painting reveals Paul's emphasis on the Word of God, as the sword of the Spirit, and his role as an apostle bringing the Word.
We were at the Louvre recently with Lisa's sister to show her some of my favorite Flemish painters and we stopped at the area devoted to Rembrandt. We happened to meet a nice French gentleman, Gaston, who was kind enough to share his favorite painting shown above, Philosophe en Méditation from 1632. While my French and his English was not perfect, we had a lovely conversation about the painting and I was inspired to write a post.
The painting pictured above is the famous “Bathsheba at her Bath” by Rembrandt (1654) hanging in the Louvre. Some think this Rembrandt’s greatest nude. The traditionally accepted identification of the model is of Rembrandt’s partner Hendrickje Stoffels, who would have been 28 at the time of the painting. The intimacy of this portrait is inescapable, she is in her boudior rather than outside, her body is imperfect (hands, belly, breasts) making the onlooker feel the reality of the portrait. Her face has a sense of timeless contentment, or perhaps sorrow at the impending events, something really hard to pull off, reminds me of the enigmatic face of the Mona Lisa. Behind her lies a passage of richly painted drapery composed of browns and ochers that impart a golden warmth. Around her rests a thickly painted background of white chemise; set against this, her naked flesh stands out for its solid form and the amazing application of paint. This portrait was performed by an older man, freed from the lust for pornography, instead painting an intimate reality of his lover.
This is part of a series I am doing on the Louvre, stuff I really love. There is so much art at the Louvre this is an endless task, but at least I am giving it a try. The portrait above was done in 1660 (he died in 1669), late in his life titled “Portrait of the Artist at his Easel.”
Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, Rembrandt's later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships. Yet his etchings and paintings were popular throughout his lifetime, his reputation as an artist remained high, and for twenty years he taught many important Dutch painters. Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are exemplified especially in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible. His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity.
It wasn't until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when scholars studied Rembrandt's oeuvre as a whole, that it was discovered how very many times the artist had portrayed himself. The number is still a matter of contention, but it seems he depicted himself in approximately forty to fifty extant paintings, about thirty-two etchings, and seven drawings. It is an output unique in history; most artists produce only a handful of self-portraits, if that. And why Rembrandt did this is one of the great mysteries of art history.
Rembrandt may have used his own face because the model was cheap, but perhaps he was killing two birds with one stone. The art-buying public–which now included people from many walks of life, not only aristocratic or clerical patrons, as in the past–went for etchings of famous people, including artists. By using himself as the model for these and other studies, Rembrandt was making himself into a recognizable celebrity at the same time that he gave the public strikingly original and expressive tronies. The wide dissemination of these and other prints was important in establishing Rembrandt's reputation as an artist.