Indepth Arts News: |
2001-06-08 until 2001-09-02
National Galleries of Scotland
Rembrandt was one of the most original artists ever to wield a brush, draw a sketch or
make an etching. His extraordinarily wide-ranging and innovative artistic output has
been praised and, at various times, vilified but it is his representations of women that
have prompted some of the strongest reactions from admirers and critics alike. This
major exhibition will be the first to examine Rembrandts portrayal of women in his art,
with superb works borrowed from many of the finest collections in the world.
Rembrandts Women brings together many carefully chosen masterpieces drawn from
more than forty different museums, galleries and private owners across Europe and
America. Twenty-seven paintings, along with forty-eight etchings and forty-four
drawings, will be displayed chronologically to demonstrate how Rembrandt developed
certain themes depicting women, how his stylistic approach changed with the years and
how, fascinatingly, he kept returning to certain subjects throughout his life.
The exhibition will show sketches of women looking after their children, pictures of
smiling servant girls and old ladies as biblical heroines, displayed alongside
Rembrandts studies of the nude, paintings of mythological and historical scenes and his
little-known erotic prints.
The strong emotional power of many of Rembrandts pictures of women have led many
to believe that they represent the women that he loved: his elderly mother, Cornelia, his
blonde wife Saskia, his sons nursemaid Geertje Dircks, and his dark-haired mistress
Hendrickje Stoffels. The emotional intimacy he shared with them is unmistakeable,
bringing seventeenth-century women face to face with the viewer. It was this perceived
psychological sympathy combined with the artists unflinching, unwavering realism
which prompted Van Gogh to praise Rembrandt for That tenderness in the gaze, that
heartbroken tenderness .
One of the most controversial aspects of Rembrandts work is his realistic depiction of
womens bodies, complete with lumps, bumps, cellulite and garter-marks. In 1681 the
Dutch poet and critic Andries Pels said of Rembrandt that He chose no Greek Venus as
his model but rather a washerwoman or a peat trader from a barn ... and he called this
whim imitation of nature . Kenneth Clark agreed and went on to describe one of
Rembrandts women as monstrously fat. But it is this uncompromising depiction of
real women which makes Rembrandts work contemporary in its impact even today.
While Rembrandt used the women in his household as models for figures in large-scale
historical, mythological and biblical scenes, he also made telling sketches of women
going about their everyday business, providing a glimpse of seventeenth century
domestic routine. These drawings, like the mother comforting her child frightened by a
dog (Institut Neerlandais, Paris), are so fresh and uncontrived that they are universal in
This combination of grand mythological scenes, intimate portraits, and spontaneous
drawings shows the breadth of Rembrandts vision and the depth of his humanity. His
female figures are at once luminously beautiful, and unclassically realistic - challenging
our perception of beauty, and enticing us to empathy.
A Woman in Bed, c.1645,
oil on canvas,
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh