Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Rembrandt and the richness of the print culture

Rembrandt Van Rijn / 
Arguably, the most influential
phic artist of his generation.

On the occasion of seeing Rembrandt's Century the other evening at the de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, I was amazed by the wide ranging artworks from the Dutch Golden Age and the remarkable achievements by Rembrandt Van Rijn and his 17th century Dutch peers in this exhibition of works on paper.

Rembrandt's Century, which complements Girl With the Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuisexplores an artistic era when printmaking gained in cultural importance, both in Holland and internationally. According to the exhibition's curator, James Ganz, writing on the de Young Museum's website, http://deyoung.famsf.org, "More than any other fine objects, prints circulation extensively throughout the 17th-century art world, broadcasting artistic, political, and scientific development far and wide."

This extraordinary exhibition of more than 200 engravings, etchings, woodcuts, ink drawings and watercolors, includes 60 etchings by Rembrandt dating from the 1620s to the 1660s as its focal point. Also, there are works by painter-printmakers such as Adriaen van Ostade, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione and Jusepe de Ribera, as well as by graphic artists such as Jacques Callot, Wenceslaus Hollar and Lambert Doomer.

Through observing Rembrandt's etchings and prints, I learned of the richness of the print culture that existed during the era of the Dutch Golden Age. Not only was Rembrandt a student of art; he was also a teacher and a collector, too. His prints include many different genres: still life, natural history, the nude, landscape, and scenes of daily life.

One of his Rembrandt's most artistic landscapes regardless of medium is his "The Landscape with Three Trees," drawn in 1643. It represents Rembrandt's largest and most striking etched landscape and it's animated with many details, too. It drew a lot of attention and gazing on this evening.

"It's a print that's been loved by so many people, and there's so much literature on it, yet nobody to this day can agree on whether the storm is coming or going or what kind of trees those are," said Ganz, in a March interview with San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker.

"One of the conventions of landscape is that you have a draftsman sitting somewhere, but you don't put the draftsman facing out of the picture, which is what Rembrandt does here," said Ganz. "It's almost impossible to see under 5-foot candles of light, but there is a couple there cuddling in the bushes. And the three trees ~ are they the Three Crosses? Is it a political thing? We don't know."

One thing that's certain is Rembrandt thoroughly immersed himself in the vibrant print culture of the 17th century, both as a creator and collector, and he distinguished himself as arguably the most influential graphic artist of his generation.

Rembrandt's Century, the first exhibition to showcase the extraordinary holdings from the age of Rembrandt van Rijn in the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, runs through June 2, 2013 in the de Young-Herbst Exhibition Galleries at the de Young Museum, San Francisco.

(Photo for Rembrandt's Century courtesy of Exhibition Catalogue.)

Rembrandt's The Landscape With the Three Trees (1643)

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