In the century that has passed since the collectors Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) and Frederik Johannes Lugt (1884-1970) began to acquire works by Rembrandt van Rijn, the world's view of the artist has changed dramatically. In the late nineteenth century the Dutch artist was perceived as an isolated and unrecognized genius, resistant to rules and increasingly withdrawn from society over time. Today he is generally viewed as an enormously ambitious artist whose extraordinary abilities and innovative style and technique brought him spectacular market success, international fame, and numerous followers during his lifetime.
This winter, Rembrandt's legacy is the subject of The Frick Collection's special exhibition Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and Lugt Collections, which presents a selection of paintings, prints, and drawings by the master and the diverse group of Dutch artists who constitute his school, among them Govert Flinck, Ferdinand Bol, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Carel Fabritius, Samuel van Hoogstraten, Nicolaes Maes, Philips Koninck, and Lambert Doomer. Together, these works represent the richness of the expansive body of work produced by Rembrandt and the individuals who sought him as a teacher or a figure for emulation.
The ensemble, drawn from the collections formed by Frick and Lugt, also reflects the ways these men of different backgrounds, means, and aspirations as collectors responded to the notions of Rembrandt that prevailed during their lifetimes. The exhibition, which is on view exclusively at the Frick, occupies three spaces: the Oval Room, the Cabinet, and the lower-level galleries. As a whole, the show runs from February 15 through May 15, but the sixty-five drawings and etchings on loan from the Lugt Collection (as well as a single work from the Robert Lehman Wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art) will remain on view through May 22. The exhibition is organized by Colin B. Bailey, the Frick's Associate Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator, in conjunction with Margaret Iacono, Assistant Curator, and Joanna Sheers, Curatorial Assistant.
Colin B. Bailey Comments, "This presentation is our second collaboration with the Fondation Custodia, which houses the collection of Frits Lugt. It follows the 2009 exhibition of his French eighteenth- and nineteenth-century drawings. Given that Lugt is best known as a scholar of Dutch drawings, we're thrilled to look at his Rembrandt school holdings alongside our own. Furthermore, in preparing for this project, we examined and treated our Rembrandt Self-Portrait, and the result is nothing short of a revelation. This masterpiece can now be seen in its original tonalities and nuanced brushwork and will return to the galleries this winter looking better than it has in decades."
THE LONG-STANDING APPEAL OF REMBRANDT
Rembrandt has been a household name and a subject of scholarly interest for centuries. His reputation never suffered from obscurity, unlike many of his contemporaries, among them Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer. Shifts in taste and the formulation of academic principles and classical ideals in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did prompt some criticism of his work, mainly concerning his unidealized figural style, his focus on emotional states rather than narrative clarity, and the dark palette and distinctively rugged brushwork of his later paintings. It was in light of these very qualities, perceived as “anticlassical,” that Rembrandt became a model and hero for the growing number of artists working outside the academic establishment in the nineteenth century. As he was increasingly celebrated, so developed the erroneous notion that he had been neglected in the past—a man of modern sensibilities and a rebellious spirit, unwilling to submit to popular taste or social mores. This romanticization of the artist, which characterized his work as overwhelmingly inwardlooking and autobiographical, persisted into the twentieth century and is reflected in different degrees in Frick’s and Lugt’s choices as collectors of Rembrandt. Both the American industrialist and the Dutch scholar had their first significant encounters with the artist’s work in the 1890s, a decade in which Rembrandt’s celebrity reached new heights, marked by a historic exhibition held of his work in 1898 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. With widely publicized discoveries of paintings by the master, Rembrandt’s oeuvre was rapidly expanding, while sales of his work, often from European aristocratic collections to American magnates, brought increasingly high prices.
In the Frick exhibition, five paintings by Rembrandt and his school from the museum’s permanent collection is on view in the Oval Room—four acquired by Henry Clay Frick between 1899 and 1919 and the fifth by the trustees in 1943 from the collection of J. Pierpont Morgan. Three of these works are unquestionable masterpieces by the artist—Nicolaes Ruts (1631), The Polish Rider (c. 1655), and the Self-Portrait (1658). Two of the paintings—Portrait of a Young Artist and Old Woman with a Book—were acquired by Frick as Rembrandts but are today attributed to artists in his entourage. This is the first time that all five paintings have been united in a special display. The Cabinet features a selection of prints by Rembrandt acquired by Henry Clay Frick at the end of his life. These works on paper are part of the founding bequest and therefore unavailable for loan and, for conservation reasons, are rarely on display.
REMBRANDT AS A SELF-PORTRAIT SUBJECT IN BOTH COLLECTIONS