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Rembrandt and His Circle

AE-remthumbAn exhibit featuring highlights from one of the finest collections of Dutch drawings in the world is now on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich.

 

By Arthur Stampleman

 

An exhibit featuring highlights from one of the finest collections of Dutch drawings in the world is now on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich.


“Drawings by Rembrandt, his Students and Circle from the Maida and George Abrams Collection” includes ten works by Rembrandt and close to 50 by his pupils and followers. Through October, two paintings by the Dutch master are also part of the exhibit through a special arrangement.

 

AE-oldThis show demonstrates why it’s often difficult to determine the artist of a particular work in Rembrandt’s time. It does so by displaying the outstanding quality of drawings of Rembrandt’s contemporaries beside drawings of the master himself.

 

Few of the drawings are signed, because they were rarely intended to be finished works of art. Don’t look for drawings that might be the basis for well-known paintings or etchings. There are none in the show by Rembrandt and only a few by his contemporaries.

 

Pen and ink, along with chalk, were the most common materials used for drawing by artists in Rembrandt’s circle. Several beautiful white-and-black-chalk on blue- paper works by his contemporaries are also on display. A short video and three displays inform visitors about the period, Rembrandt, drawing techniques, and attribution methods.

 

The drawings are organized into three gallery themes – figure studies, biblical scenes, and landscapes. Rembrandt leads off in each section, followed by the work of students and associates who will be unknown to most viewers. They include Jan Lievens, Govert Flinck, Ferdinand Bol, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Samuel van Hoogstraten, Abraham Furnerius, Pieter de With, Roelant Roghman, and Arent de Gelder.  

 

Rembrandt’s figure studies typically capture a momentary expression, record an impression of a passing scene or individual, or pursue a compositional idea he could draw upon later when working on a painting. In Four Studies, he explores different views of a man’s head, expressions, and headgear. Besides pen and ink, here he also uses wash, applying diluted ink with a pen. In Woman Doing Handwork, one of his students, van den Eeckhout, captures the concentration of a woman crocheting.

 

Rembrandt’s biblical drawings were independent studies executed to teach composition and expression to students, or to record emotional stories with an “aha” moment. In Zacharias, note the priest’s awestruck face when confronted by Archangel Gabriel, who announces that his long- barren wife will bear a son (John the Baptist).

 

AE-oldladyLandscapes are less common in Rembrandt’s oeuvre, but there are two in the show whose provenance can be traced back to an auction following the artist’s bankruptcy.

 

The largest drawing in the exhibit is Willem de Poorter’s The Stoning of St. Stephen, in which Stephen is kneeling in prayer and looking up at a vision of heaven as he is stoned to death.

 

Of particular interest are works by Lievens and Roghman. Forest scenes by Lievens contrast quickly done en plein air works with those created in the studio. Roghman’s Develstein Castle, one of the few signed works in the exhibit, displays wonderful perspective and architectural draftsmanship.

 

The two Rembrandt paintings on loan from New York collections are Portrait of a Bearded Man in Red Doublet (1633) and Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo (1658). The earlier one is a straightforward depiction of a prominent individual painted a bright color with a smooth finish and in standard pose. The later portrait is more complex; the subject is youthful but the colors are dark and the finish rough.

 

The exhibit runs through January 8. Museum hours are 10 to 5 Tuesday to Saturday and 1 to 5 Sundays. Docent tours are offered most Fridays at 12:30 pm. For more information, contact 203-869-0376 or brucemuseum.org.


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