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Monday, November 14, 2016

Rembrandt's House

Rembrandt House Museum, Amsterdam. The artist and his family occupied only the central structure for some seventeen years.
About three years ago, I put together a piece on artists' studios. The premise being that you could tell a lot about an artist by where he worked. Today, starting with the iconic Dutch painter, Rembrandt van Rijn, I plan to begin a whole series on the homes of famous artists such as Rembrandt in the belief that you can tell even more about an artist by taking a close look at where he or she lived. That's especially the case if that artist lived in one place for a significant number of years and, as often is the case, had the inclination to customize his habitat to any great degree. Of course, the downside to all this is that, in so many cases, such historic venues no longer bear much resemblance to their artist-occupied era, or simply no longer exist, especially those dating back half a millennium or more. Fortunately, in Rembrandt's case, neither apply.
Rembrandt's House has changed little in 400 years.
Self-portrait, Rembrandt van Rijn
ca. 1629-30, painted at the age of
23; probably his third self-portrait.
There's a lot to be said in favor of venturing from ones backyard out into the rest of the world, both in touring ones homeland and overseas. There's also a lot to be said in favor of modern-day ocean cruising in doing so. Traveling between cities; checking into different hotels several times on each trip; packing, unpacking, then repacking; choosing restaurants; getting around in strange cities (safely)...insofar as I'm concerned all these constitute what some have called a "royal pain in the ass." Boarding a cruise ship, unpacking and repacking only once, and knowing from whence your next meal is coming from, quality excursion tours, quality entertainment, largely eliminates all the discomforts mentioned above. HOW-EVER...(notice, that's a BIG however) for the art lover especially, a singled day in most major cities of the world is grossly inadequate. Knowing this, my wife and I spent a whole week in Paris a couple years ago. Yet, I am still kicking myself for all the things I missed for lack of time. If I live long enough and have the stamina, I'd like to revisit Florence, Venice, St. Petersburg, Chicago, and of course, Amsterdam. There, as an example, I was faced with choosing between Rembrandt, van Gogh, the massive Rijksmuseum, and Anne Frank. I chose van Gogh (and have never regretted it) but there was so much I missed.
The Rembrandt Family--the artist, Saskia, his wife and three daughters as they would have appeared when living in the Rembrandt House. By 1665-68, when this was painted, all those depicted (from memory) had been dead for about ten years.
As museums go, Rembrandt's does not compare favorably with van Gogh's...or at best it's an "apples and oranges" comparison. Van Gogh's museum edifice is large, starkly modern, and well-stocked showplace with many of the artist's best works. In contrast, Rembrandt's Amsterdam museum is housed in his one-time home and two adjacent buildings on either side. Although it does boast a considerable number of the artist's etchings, it's noticeably light in its painting collection, largely due to the fact that it was completely dispersed when Rembrandt went bankrupt in 1656. (Many of van Gogh's works remained in the family after his death). On the other hand, the auctioning off of virtually all of Rembrandt's earthly possessions in paying off his creditors was, in fact, something of a godsend for those who have worked restoring his onetime luxurious abode. The inventory for the sale survived.

Where Rembrandt called home. Most of the pieces are original
to the house except for the bed, which is a copy.
Using this valuable archive, art historians have been able to reconstruct the 17th-century interior of the house to exacting standards, often with original pieces. The collection contains Rembrandt's etchings but most of the paintings are those of Rembrandt's contemporaries. The museum had 237,383 visitors in 2014. The van Gogh Museum had almost two-million. Unlike van Gogh's coldly modern museum in a city where Vincent spent relatively little time during his life, the Rembrandt House has been thoroughly reconstructed on the inside to show how the house would have looked in Rembrandt's days. Adjoining (and linked to) the house is a modern building where work of Rembrandt is on display, mainly etchings and also a part of his collection of objects from all over the world (Rembrandt collected almost as much art as he created).

Rembrandt's paints. Take some clays; grind them
to a fine powder; add oil--instant masterpieces.


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