30/06/2007 — 8/09/2007

Rembrandt as printmaker

A Hayward Touring/ British Museum Partnership UK exhibition

 

The 400th anniversary of the birth of Rembrandt (1606-1669) is the occasion to celebrate the work of one of the greatest artists of all time. His outstanding achievement as a graphic artist is supremely well represented in the collection of the British Museum, whose expert Martin Royalton-Kisch made the selection of 60 prints for this Hayward Touring exhibition that came to Blackpool as its final venue in June 2007.

 

Rembrandt was the first modern etcher, producing more than 300 prints over a period of 40 years. His influence has been incalculable, profoundly affecting subsequent graphic art, encompassing some of the most radical and contemporary forms of expression. The exhibition showed the whole range of his work, including self-portraits, biblical scenes, landscapes and character studies. Some of Rembrandt’s etchings were so sought after in his lifetime that they commanded higher prices than his paintings. The exhibition included his masterpiece as a printmaker, 'Christ healing the Sick', which was known as the Hundred guilder print, because it changed hands several times for what was then an enormous sum.

Rembrandt is famous for his command of light and darkness, exemplified by the nocturnal scene of 'The three crosses'. This monumental print is generally regarded as one of the high points of his career. Two different versions were included, giving fascinating insights into his working methods. The exhibition also included the evocative landscape, 'The three trees', in which Rembrandt creates, in layer upon layer of tone, graduations of distance and atmosphere with breathtaking subtlety.

At the other extreme from his highly finished prints, is the rapid sketch from nature, 'Six’s bridge'. The story behind this print is that Rembrandt allegedly produced it after Jan Six, a Dutch landowner, wagered him to complete an etching in the time it took a servant to fetch a pot of mustard from a nearby village.

Rembrandt’s profound understanding of human character is revealed in his portraits and self-portraits. The exhibition included vivid self-portraits: the artist posing at the age of 24, open-mouthed with wild, curly hair, wearing an expression that he then transposed to the face of a beggar in a study of the same year. In other self-portraits he is wide-eyed with a look of astonishment, or frowning fiercely. In his thirties, he portrays himself proudly in Renaissance costume leaning on a sill in a pose inspired by Titian. A decade later, he portrays himself humbly working at a window with etching needle in hand. These were amongst the many masterpieces to be seen in this important Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition of one of the world’s greatest artists.

 

This Blackpool showing of the exhibition was supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.