Visual excellence at NGV’s Rembrandt: True to Life exhibition

(L-R): Installation view of Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn’s Self-portrait 1659 from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC on display in Rembrandt: True to Life on display from 2 June – 10 September at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Tom Ross; Installation view of Rembrandt: True to Life on display from 2 June – 10 September at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Tom Ross; Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Christ with the sick around Him, receiving little children (The hundred guilder print) c. 1648, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased, 1891. Photo: NGV; Installation view of Rembrandt: True to Life on display from 2 June – 10 September at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Tom Ross; Installation view of Rembrandt: True to Life on display from 2 June – 10 September at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Tom Ross; Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Tobit and Anna with the kid 1626, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Purchased with the support of the Vereniging Rembrandt, the Rijksmuseum-Stichting, the Prins Bernhard Fonds and an additional government funding. Photo: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

MELBOURNE, 2 June 2023: 17th century Dutch artist Rembrandt’s creations are on display at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) from today to 10 September 2023. Rembrandt: True to Life is the most comprehensive exhibition of the prolific seventeenth century Dutch artist’s work held in Australia in more than 25 years. Tracing Rembrandt’s extraordinary four decades-long career, the exhibition emphasises the artist’s innovations in printmaking through more than 100 etchings drawn from the NGV Collection, alongside important loans of paintings from public collections worldwide. 

At a visual media presentation on the eve of the exhibition’s start, and a preview of the exhibition, no doubt, leaves one mesmerised with the creations of this greatest Dutch artist of the Golden Age. It’s a treat to see such visual creations in the 21st century. Anyone having passion for art cannot miss this exhibition.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Rembrandt’s printmaking. Rembrandt was the first artist to comprehensively explore the possibilities of etching and it is through his prints that audiences can fully appreciate the breadth and depth of his work.  

The exhibition contextualises Rembrandt’s prints through important loans from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the Louvre Museum in Paris, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and the Teylers Museum in Haarlem. Displayed in thematic groups of portraits, religious motifs, landscapes, nudes, and scenes of everyday life, the prints and paintings tell the story of a remarkable artist and his unprecedented creative skills. Donna McColm, Assistant Director, Curatorial and Audience Engagement at National Gallery of Victoria introduced the exhibition:

The Hundred Guilder Print, c. 1648, is one of Rembrandt’s best known and most ambitious etchings. It combines several passages from the Gospel of St Matthew, bringing together a diverse group of people who gather around Christ, including the rich and the poor, young and old. The work is a technical masterpiece in its detailed rendering of figures, space and atmosphere. It is the culmination of the artist’s longstanding fascination with light and shade, which he explored in print and paint. In 1649, an impression of the print was sold for the exorbitant sum of 100 guilders, the price of a quality painting, which gave the etching its name.  

Top left – Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn Self-portrait in a cap, wide-eyedandopen-mouthed1630etching5.0×4.5 cmRijksmuseum, AmsterdamPhoto: Rijksmuseum; Top right – Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn Man in oriental clothing1635oil on panel72.0 × 54.5 cm Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Gift of Mr and Mrs Kessler-Hülsmann, Kapelle op den BoschPhoto: Rijksmuseum,Amsterdam; Bottom left – RembrandtHarmensz. vanRijnPortrait ofHendrickje Stoffelswith velvet beretc.1654oil on canvas74.0×61.0 cmMusée du Louvre, ParisPhoto©RMN-Grand Palais(Musée du Louvre) / TonyQuerrec; Bottom right – RembrandtHarmensz. vanRijnBeggars receiving alms at thedoor of a house1648etching, burin and drypoint, 2ndof 3 states16.6×13.0cm (sheet, trimmedto platemark)National Gallery of Victoria,MelbournePurchased, 1891Photo: NGV. (All photos courtesy NGV)

The exhibition also features a small recreation of the artist’s Wunderkammer – or cabinet of curiosities – inspired by Rembrandt’s own collection of prints and drawings, shells and rare natural objects, musical instruments, weapons and exotic artefacts.

Rembrandt often drew creative and artistic inspiration from the items in his collection, in particular for his biblical subjects, which are set in far-away places.

Drawn from the NGV Collection, as well as the Melbourne Museum and the State Library of Victoria, the objects represent the exotic imports and luxury items that were traded in Amsterdam during the mid-seventeenth century. 

“During the exhibition, the NGV will seek to deepen its acclaimed Rembrandt collection through an appeal to acquire the important print Abraham Francen, Apothecary c. 1657.

The work is an etched portrait from late in the artist’s career of his close friend Abraham Francen, a stalwart supporter of Rembrandt during his financial difficulties. Francen was also a passionate collector, like Rembrandt, and is shown in his chamber surrounded by objects in his collection.

This etching provides a rare glimpse into the environment of the cultivated collector in 17th century Amsterdam. The work will also be included in the exhibition, ” says a media release from the NGV.

Rembrandt: True to Life is on display 2 June – 10 September 2023 at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Admission fees apply. For tickets and information, please visit the NGV website: NGV.MELBOURNE    

By Neeraj Nanda

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