Sketcher of selfies and etcher of Instagram stories – the first ever comprehensive display of Rembrandt’s work at the Rijksmuseum shows the ‘rebel’ 17th century artist in a new light.
The display, Alle Rembrandts, opens on Friday and runs until 10th June, and is predicted to be a blockbuster.
For the first time, the museum in Amsterdam is showing all of its 22 paintings, 60 drawings and the best prints of its 300 etchings by the Leiden-born artist Rembrandt van Rijn.
Many of these fragile pieces – which are displayed in a dramatic half-light– have been in storage waiting for the exhibition and will afterwards go back to recover.
Taco Dibbits, general director of the Rijksmuseum, predicts the exhibition showing Rembrandt’s keen observation of daily life as well as his power as a grandiose storyteller would strike a chord with the modern public.
‘The Rijksmuseum has the world’s largest and most representative oversight of Rembrandt’s work, and for the first time we are showing everything in the house,’ said Dibbits at a press viewing.
‘When you walk into this exhibition, you walk into Rembrandt’s life – Rembrandt the rebel, who does not follow the rules of art, who isn’t about beauty but about the raw reality. He draws all of us in our beauty, our ugliness, our imperfections, joy and grief.’
He said that he was personally most struck by the often tiny etches and drawings of Rembrandt, showing his bedroom, his wife Saskia in pregnancy and terminal sickness and – most of all – himself.
‘He draws himself like no other artist,’ said Dibbits, ‘with more selfies – if I could call them that – than you can imagine. He often “photographs” himself, and he was the first artist to put himself, his friends, and family, the landscape, even a shell, into an etching.’
Erik Hinterding, curator of the exhibition, said it aimed to display the engaging, personal quality of his work from quick sketches of funny faces to the human faces painted into imagined Biblical scenes.
‘He was a sort of Instagrammer,’ he said. ‘He made kind of snapshots of what was happening at home, with his wife Saskia [sick] in bed: no artist before him had let us into his bedroom, and it really touches you. It’s so personal.’
The exhibition is organised in two halves: the first, focusing on Rembrandt’s observations of people and everyday life from his father and mother to a random man, woman and child urinating in public. The second shows how he dramatised these real faces into grand scenes from the Bible and large-scale paintings.
His sketches and etchings – works needled into a copper plate, treated with acid and then printed – are often tiny. Some show him pulling faces, visages lined with wrinkles or salacious images – a man looking up a woman’s skirt, or a woman sitting naked with a man’s hat on the table beside her.
According to Dibbits, this mixture of observation of the ordinary plus extraordinary ability is what makes Rembrandt’s art so ‘recognisable’. ‘Rembrandt is for everyone – it’s for the world.’
The display is part of a series of exhibitions across the Netherlands in honour of the artist, 350 years after his death. The Rijksmuseum has also published its first biography, aiming to tell a fact-based tale of the life of the ‘rebel’ and miller’s son alongside his works.
Visitors can listen to an audio explanation of the new show in four languages via the museum’s app as well as through conventional devices.