A history of collecting

What better location is there to uncover artists inspired by Rembrandt than the artist’s former home in the centre of Amsterdam? Now the Rembrandt House Museum, this history-rich space has not only been collecting works by Rembrandt for the past hundred years but also works by his predecessors, contemporaries and modern artists who have all been influenced by Rembrandt’s genius and individual perspective that was, for the time, ground-breaking.

For the most part, the collection comprises works on paper including drawings, watercolours and prints with Rembrandt’s own etchings well-represented. The works vary in scale, age and quality with some surprising artists included, think Edgar Degas and Pablo Picasso. The collection itself has some 4,000 prints in it, some of which can be seen in this exhibition.

A rich culture of street life

“Inspired by Rembrandt” introduces works by contemporary artists organised along eight key themes: heads, nature, life, Rembrandt himself, emptiness, black, the line and rawness. These themes connect Rembrandt’s etchings with modern works, showing how his influence in method, subject matter and style has been adopted and refashioned in new ways.

Rembrandt was fascinated by the characters he saw on the street, from soldiers through to intriguing newcomers and locals going about their daily business. Modern artists have been captivated by Rembrandt’s approach to depicting reality and his focus on taboo subject matter, for example, contorted bodies and faces that unflinchingly show age and life. A case in point is Woman urinating (1996) by Marlene Dumas. It directly references an etching by Rembrandt that depicted what was probably a typical street scene of the time. Dumas’s work displays in-your-face voyeurism and a hint of feminism.

Style pastiche

Many artists following in Rembrandt’s footsteps are fascinated by his attention to detail. Rembrandt was absorbed with the techniques of depiction, taking a research-driven approach to expressive line, the rendering of shadow and the use of deep black. English artist Glenn Brown continues the study, appropriating Rembrandt’s heads. He distorts them digitally and redraws them using an iPad. The works are then etched onto a copperplate with the final print combining original and reworked images into one piece.

Rembrandt’s influence is clearly seen in the work of Ferdinand Bol, a former student of the great master. Bol’s compositions and use of black pay tribute to his teacher, as is clear in his 1643 etching of The Holy Family in a Living Room. The recently acquired work will make its debut in this exhibition. Peer into the darkness of the image and wait for details to emerge in this rich and rewarding work.

There is no doubting Rembrandt’s influence on generations of artists. His attention to detail and challenging of convention when it comes to subject matter continues to inspire. Don’t miss this fascinating exhibition that will provide insight into the creative process.

Inspired by Rembrandt can be seen at Rembrandt House Museum through to 1 September 2019. Find out more about Rembrandt and this year’s series of exhibitions celebrating his life and times.