Posts Tagged ‘Rembrandt’

By Sarah Lees, Associate Curator of European Art

As the in-house curator for Rembrandt and Degas, an exhibition that was first shown at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I worked with my colleagues to decide how we would present these prints and paintings at the Clark—meaning both how to place them within our gallery space, and what to say about them.

As I worked on the installation, I realized that I was thinking about the artists in more personal terms than I expected, rather than seeing the show as primarily a set of themes or images. That’s because the exhibition consists entirely of portraits, most of them self-portraits, which means that it’s easier than usual to imagine being the artist as he stood in front of his canvas, deciding how to portray himself. It’s really that process of thinking that struck me most—you can see Rembrandt considering how different expressions look, and also trying out different kinds of approaches to convey them, using lighter or darker shadows in prints and paintings, and thin or thick lines in his prints.

Degas does the same thing, but he also clearly thinks about the artists who came before him, and how they made portraits. If you were Degas in 1857 or so, looking into a mirror and then at a blank canvas or etching plate, wouldn’t you see not just your own features but also those of Rembrandt—and Ingres and Delacroix and Titian—and wouldn’t you have to decide whether to reject their examples or follow them a little bit—or a lot?

Degas’s etching of his friend and fellow printmaker Joseph-Gabriel Tourny is probably the best example of the French artist adopting some of Rembrandt’s ideas. Tourny wears a Rembrandtesque hat and sits at a window with a stack of paper, just as Rembrandt did in one of his self-portraits, and wears an ambiguous expression that many of the faces in the exhibition share, his head largely in shadows. And Degas printed this image over and over again in different ways, following a method for which Rembrandt had become famous. Even though we’re only showing one version of it, you can see evidence of Degas’s thought process in the two different framing lines that he drew around the central image.

When you see this image in the context of this exhibition, you can find a surprising number of ideas coming together in this one portrait, and maybe you can even feel a little bit closer to that small room with its fringed curtain and sturdy table, and to the artist Tourny is looking at…

Image Credits:

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Self-Portrait with Beret and Neck Cloth, 1633. Etching second state, 13.9 x 11.9 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-OB-32

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), The Engraver Joseph Tourny, 1857. Etching; sixth printing on Japanese vellum, 32.2 x 25.1 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. H.O.   Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929, 29.107.55  [© The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art   Resource, NY]

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By Paul Richardson, Assistant Exhibitions Manager

Even a relatively small exhibition like Rembrandt & Degas: Two Young Artists has many component parts that must be organized and coordinated in order to bring the exhibition to completion.

The intellectual genesis for this exhibition was the observation of a senior staff member from Rijksmuseum Amsterdam upon visiting the Clark that the shading, or chiaroscuro, effects across the face of the Clark’s youthful 1856 Edgar Degas Self-Portrait were reminiscent of the shadows that fall across the Rembrandt’s face in two similarly small format Self-Portraits, one in the Rijksmuseum collection and one from the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.

One of the Rijksmuseum curators, Jenny Reynaerts, investigated whether this was a chance occurrence, or if there was any explicit knowledge or experience that bought about the similarities of these objects. Could Jenny find out what the young Degas knew and thought about Rembrandt?

Jenny found out a great deal, as you can see from the exhibition. Next, the Clark’s senior curator, Richard Rand, suggested that bringing the Clark and Rijksmuseum paintings together with other objects created by these two artists early in their careers would make an engaging and informative show. A special draw for the show in Amsterdam was that there are no Degas paintings in public collections in Holland. For Williamstown, a visiting Rembrandt or two is always a special occasion! I was especially excited to be responsible for some of the planning with staff members from the Rijksmuseum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Once all the basic parameters and goals of the exhibition settled, things really start to move behind the scenes in the curatorial and exhibitons departments. Owners of object identified during the research phase are contacted and loan request letters are sent out. Loan terms such as environmental conditions for display, shipping, and insurance are agreed and loan contracts are exchanged. Gallery space is designed and readied, and wall texts and labels are drafted and reviewed.

I worked with the various curators and exhibitions and registrarial staffs to make sure that everybody understood and agreed upon the objects that would be displayed in each venue and when personnel and artwork would be on the move. I also worked with the Clark’s curator, Sarah Lees, for our installation of the exhibition, as well as the communications and publications departments to help make sure that everything was progressing according to schedule, and that the object labels, wall text and checklist were accurate and complete.

Finally, in the last week or two before the opening, the art works arrive from lenders or are brought out from storage. Then they are readied and inspected before they are installed by our staff art preparators and curators, and conservators from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center.

As you can imagine, the art objects are placed in different locations, arrangements, and groupings to see what works best. The curator decides whether this or that etching looks best next to one and not another. Are we making the right comparison or contrast between images? Is painting A hung too high, or is painting B hung too low? Have the wall graphics arrived in time for installation?

Sometimes it’s slow going and sometimes it is incredibly hectic as the final details get worked out and we get ready to open. In the end though, everything falls into place, the excitement builds, the show looks great, our visitors enjoy the amazing artwork—and I’m happy, proud, and relieved.


Image credits:

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Self-Portrait as a Young Man, 1629. Oil on panel, 15.6 x 12.7 cm. Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen-Alte Pinakothek, Munich, 11427 [© bpk, Berlin / Alte Pinakothek, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Germany / Art Resource, NY]

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), Self-Portrait, c. 1857–58. Oil on paper mounted on canvas, 26 x 19.1 cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.544 [Image © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA]

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Self-Portrait as a Young Man, c. 1628–29. Oil on panel, 22.6 x 18.7 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Purchased with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt, with additional funding from the Prins Bernhard Fonds, the Stichting tot Bevordering van de Belangen van het Rijksmuseum, and the ministerie van CRM, SK-A-4691

Rembrandt   van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Young Man in a Velvet Cap   (Ferdinand Bol), 1637.  Etching, second state, 9.5 x 7.7 cm. The   Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of   Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929. 29.107.10     [© The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY]

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