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Indepth Arts News:

"Rembrandt's Women"
2001-06-08 until 2001-09-02
National Galleries of Scotland
Edinburgh, , UK

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 their appeal.

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

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