|Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait, 1633|
Even if the weather can’t quite bring itself to turn autumnal, the fall exhibitions have now opened. And what better way to start off the season than with a small, “intimate” exhibition of Rembrandt’s painting at the Musée Jacquemart André.
|Rembrandt van Rijn, Supper at Emmaus, 1629|
As always at this museum, the exhibition on the upper floor gallery is small and crowded but filled with masterpieces. It’s entitled Rembrandt Intime though it’s unclear why this is a particularly intimate look at his work. Innovatively, the exhibition is curated with the museum’s three masterpieces as its focus, and therefore, doesn’t show the history paintings. However, in my eyes, all of Rembrandt’s works are private and intimate. Even The Night Watch (1642) has an intimacy to it because he couldn’t resist putting the people from his life in the portrait of the militia company. And when standing before another public commission such as The Syndics (1662) we feel as though we may have introduced on a private meeting at the Drapers’ Guild. Private or not, some of Rembrandt’s most personal and touching of his paintings are these portraits of his family and friends are among the most.
|Rembrandt van Rijn, Parabole de l'homme riche, 1627|
Although I loved seeing certain of the paintings, for example, the Louvre's Supper at Emmaus (1629) and Parabole de l’homme riche (1627), for me the highlights were the generous number of drawings and the portraits together in the final room of the exhibition. The drawings are delightful because in them we see Rembrandt thinking, experimenting, doodling. Beautifully presented, many framed and behind glass, these exquisite metal point and sepia ink and aqua tints capture a force and range of emotions in just a few strokes. Like the drawings of any master, it is with these that we feel closest to Rembrandt.
Towards the end of his life when the paint becomes looser and he is working with more abstract representations, when the distinction between the figure and the background begin to merge, his palette becomes warmer, the chiaroscuro begins to soften, and the power of the relationship between the artist and sitter is laid out before us. And as Rembrandt steps away from the canvas, leaving it with us, we are invited to connect in powerful ways to the sitter. In their eyes we don’t just see the intensity of why they are, but the soul of the young men and women, his son, lover and friend, as well as the Doctor in Portrait du docteur Arnold Tholinx (1656) is laid bare for us all to experience. These portraits expose a vulnerability of the self that made me feel as though I shouldn’t be looking at them. Even amid the crowds in the small rooms at the Musée Jacquemart André, Rembrandt’s paintings are touching. The exhibition blurb talks about faces being caught in a moment of eternity, but for me, it’s the infinity of the relationship of two souls meeting that makes them feel timeless. And I have to say, as I stood in front of these exquisite and sometimes small paintings that are already 400 years old, I could sense the most profound timelessness in the perfection of paintings so old, and yet so filled with immediacy.