Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum
Art Gallery of NSW
Before the dawn of the 18th century, the territory that was to become known as Netherlands was the epitome of a wealthy nation that provided fertile ground for painters whose influences still reverberate today. The focus of the Dutch artists was channeled through an acutely aware lense focused on details and resulting in paintings that are to this day unrivalled in terms of intensity, dramatic impact and tranquility.
Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum marks the first time 78 works of art from the renowned Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are displayed in Sydney as part of the local International Art Series 2017/18.
Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age catapults the visitor back to the seventeenth century, a time dominated with an abundance of confidence, prestige and cornucopia.
The exhibition features renowned works by the likes of Vermeer and Rembrandt, flanked by ones of Jacob van Ruisdael and Jan Davidsz de Heem, who became esteemed for their depiction of domestic scenes, maritime themes and historically significant events.
The undisputed highlight is the dedicated Rembrandt room, which contains apart from oil paintings, sixteen etchings depicting both themes and tropes from the bible as well as worldly themes and gives insight into the creative process of one of the masters.
One of the keys to understanding the art of this period is to look at the society, how different it was from the rest of Europe – being a bourgeois society, run by the rich middle class, and a Calvinist society.
In essence, a society of great tolerance supporting a lot of religious liberties and intellectual freedom and based on that, it spawned a lot of artists had a lot more freedom in choosing what they wanted to paint compared to other painters in Europe.
The exhibition feature the rock stars, i.e. Vermeer and Rembrandt, but also gives an overview of artists who are perhaps are not that familiar to the general public here but who are wonderful examples of the marvel of 17th century Dutch painting. Artists who in their own time were renowned and successful but today are not so well known.
The last time the Rijksmuseum lent Australia some of its most precious paintings was in 2005, for the Dutch Masters exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Among the paintings coming to Sydney this time is Vermeer’s Woman Reading a Letter: typical of the master with calm ambience, cool blue tones and domestic detail. It was chosen to offset The Love Letter, the Vermeer that came to Melbourne.
The whole show seems to have been planned with one eye on the Melbourne catalogue to rather complement than compete with what was presented at the NGV before.