Wednesday, February 16, 2011
"Rembrandt and His School": Revelations at the Frick
In sheer numbers, this is a major exhibit. It showcases more than 60 works on paper -- 29 by Rembrandt (including an amazing series of self-portraits, one of which is shown right) and the rest by artists in his circle -- from the Fondation Custodia in Paris, which houses the collection of Dutch art historian Frederik Johannes Lugt.
Ten rarely displayed prints are up from the Frick's own collection. The show also offers, at long last, straight-on views of five paintings, including the newly cleaned "Self-Portrait" (top), all of which came into the Frick as Rembrandts but two of which are now attributed to others. You can finally stick your nose right up to "The Polish Rider," which for decades has been hung way too high to see.
Another rarity: Rembrandt's largest drawing, a landscape on loan from the Met that's displayed alongside a copy by one of his students.
And there's a lot to learn -- how economically he could express action and create narrative ("Elijah with the Angel," above); how he built up a work in light and dark ("Interior with Saskia in Bed," right); how in landscape he recorded topography while imbuing it with unified emotion.
Always his strokes seem unstudied, even when he corrects himself, tempting us to believe that there's no distance between line and feeling. Rembrandt, the magician.
Then there are the loaned prints, which include eight self-portraits from the 1630s through 1648 (at right is the latest). Rembrandt as courtier, as artist, as husband, by turns grimacing, somber, aggressive. Seeing seven of them arrayed one next to the other (the eighth greets us at the beginning of the exhibition) -- it's nothing short of astonishing.
The Frick's Rembrandt paintings are ordinarily exhibited in a sort of Great Hall of Fame, interspersed among Turners, a Poussin, and other works without regard to art historical categories, and they hang high to clear the wainscoting. For this show they are exhibited together in an intimate, semi-circular space so that it's possible to take them in from one spot, and you view them pretty much straight on.
Images: From the Frick website.