@ Dulwich Picture Gallery, London until 2 February 2020
This temporary exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery focuses on the period 1639-58, when Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69) was living in his dream home in Amsterdam (now the Museum Het Rembrandthuis), with a light-infused studio. (He eventually lost the property, due to financial problems.)
Dulwich Picture Gallery was recently the victim of an attempted robbery, and two stolen paintings, which made it as far as the gallery gardens before being recovered, were unavailable for viewing, having since been returned to their respective lenders.
Rembrandt is famous for his attention to detail, his realism (at a time when most artists were creating idealised images), his focus on expression and his use of light to accentuate both theatricality and spiritual intensity.
I took one of the free audio guides, which included some great anecdotes. Rembrandt taught students at his house, and female life models were sometimes (shockingly) used. Apparently one young man waited for his female model to undress, then undressed himself stating “now like Adam and Eve we are naked!”. Rembrandt listening in, opened the door, and threw them both out, exclaiming “Now, like Adam and Eve, you are expelled!”
The picture above is the Denial of St Peter. (I’d intended to edit the photo as it is a bit skew-whiff, but was unable to -please excuse the bad alignment!) The important thing I wanted to show was the incredible luminosity and effective use of light in this religious scene, in which Peter denies to a servant girl that he knows Christ; in the back right, Christ can be seen turning towards Peter and the scene of his betrayal.
In certain rooms, the gallery has mocked up lighting to mimic the effects that Rembrandt would have experienced (for example, candlelight), and his own methods of filtering light have also been reproduced (see below):
What I loved most in this exhibition, though, were the portraits. I always love a portrait…
Rembrandt is said to have displayed the picture below (Girl at a Window) in his own window, and passers-by were apparently stunned that the servant girl they noticed had remained still for so long. Whether or not this anecdote is apocryphal, we are made aware of the judicious use of paint to add to the vitality of the painting: the servant girls’ suntanned hand and lower arm are darker than the skin further up, and there is a tiny dot of white paint on her nose, adding to her air of animation.
Meanwhile, in the intimate painting below, A Woman Bathing in a Stream, the water is illuminated by light, as the woman (presumed to be Rembrandt’s lover) lifts her chemise as she wades into the pool.
All in all, this technically informative and fascinating exhibition was well worth the hefty-ish entrance fee.