The first thing you need to know about All the Rembrandts is that most works are small and prints, which makes for an intimate experience as you stroll through the darkened gallery rooms taking in the delicate works. For best effect, get up close to see the intricate detail in each piece. You’ll be amazed by this comprehensive overview of Rembrandt’s oeuvre.
I was particularly intrigued by how each room is cleverly grouped by theme. The opening room is all about Rembrandt himself. Equipped with a mirror, Rembrandt would study his own facial expressions and draw them as he honed his craft. The result is a candid survey of some of his early works where his keen sense of observation began to develop. You’ll also find humour throughout as the artist’s sense of fun is clearly evident in his funny faces and elaborate costume. These self-portraits are wonderful and engaging, a joy to see, and who knows, perhaps a frontrunner to the not-so-humble selfie.
Subsequent rooms focus on a range of themes highlighting the kinds of subjects that appealed to Rembrandt. The family as a model is one such theme. Here you’ll find penetrating studies of his family; his mother’s wrinkles and his father’s flowing beard are rendered in loving detail. Among these works is a moving portrait of his first wife Saskia lying ill in bed, created not long before she passed away in 1642.
Rembrandt was fascinated by the raw life on the streets of Leiden, and later Amsterdam. He drew and painted many portraits of beggars, buskers and vagrants, along with actors, soldiers and musicians, capturing the tragedy of his subjects with a deftness and warmth not seen before. Again, humour played a part, with some scenes depicting ablutions and people caught in compromising poses, a source of comic relief at the time. Many of these characters would appear in his countless religious works, the focus of several rooms.
Artists were fascinated by religious scenes at this time, which provided a source of inspiration. Rembrandt was no exception as his countless images attest. His scenes from both the new and old testaments are imbued with a sense of humanity, a trait not usually seen in such works. Rembrandt’s deft skill as a storyteller and his ingenious use of colour and light shines through in these images.
When Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, he quickly gather favour with the city’s elite. The well-to-do were keen to have their likenesses captured by the master, both in paint and print, providing Rembrandt with a solid income. The marriage portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit are just a couple of examples and were only recently acquired by the Rijksmuseum.
All the Rembrandts is a wonderful window into life during the Dutch Golden Age as seen by one of the world’s great artists. It’s a rare opportunity to see so many of his lesser-known works hanging side by side, and one I think I’ll be taking again before it closes on 10 June 2019.