The Masterful Rembrandt At National Gallery
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
There are two reasons why people are drawn to Rembrandt and his works. Firstly, there is his stylistic talent as an artist. Rembrandt built on Caravaggio's use of light and shade, then applied looser brush strokes to create works arguably more evocative than those by his predecessors and contemporaries. Secondly, there is Rembrandt's fall from being the one of the most sought-after artists of his time, to bankruptcy. This ultimately freed him up to choose his subjects more personally, rather than simply responding to commissions.
The context of bankruptcy sets the scene for blockbuster exhibition Rembrandt: The Late Works. The show opens with the best room — a series of self-portraits capturing Rembrandt's ageing — how his skin and flesh becomes sagged (as it is want to do) and his hair, progressively unkempt (presumably his own choice). There is a great honesty in these pictures, acknowledging that he looks nothing like he does in the flattering portraits of earlier days.
Rembrandt defies the convention of beauty even further, with his depiction of a morbid anatomy lesson (The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Joan Deyman, to be precise), where the brain of a cadaver is exposed. Rather than romanticising science, the artist presents it in all its gory detail.
But Rembrandt captures beauty in violence too. Lucretia was a Roman heroine who committed suicide rather than bear the shame of having been raped. Rembrandt depicts her with such intense sorrow in her eyes, even after she has stabbed herself.
The artist certainly knew how to depict eyes: contrasting with the Lucretia work is a painting of Rembrandt's son Titus. He has a wistful, faraway look in his eyes, as the painter perfectly captures him daydreaming at a desk.
The exhibition is split between drawings, prints and paintings but it's the latter which are the real masterpieces and rightfully the show's centrepiece. The downside of having such excellent loans on display is that the ticket prices are the most expensive we've seen for a National Gallery show. That said, Rembrandt: The Late Works is superbly curated, filled with works by one of history's greatest painters.
Rembrandt: The Late Works is on at National Gallery until 18 January. Tickets are £18 for adults, concessions available.
Last Updated 17 October 2014