Rembrandt: The Late Works

A review from the exhibition held back in October 2014 to January 2015 at The National Gallery, London

Since his youth, he was known to defy artistic movements to create powerful works of art with a sense of individuality. This did not change as he advanced in age; rather he created some of his most bold paintings and prints. The National Gallery has provided a spectacular exhibition, which is a feat in itself due to the fact that the artist in question was and still is an important figure in the art world. What surprised me was the simplicity of the layout, I was expecting grandeur from such a big artist. Four self portrait canvases that showed of the seriousness of the paintings contrasted with the comical, often kind looking and burdened expressions of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.

Spanning over the final 15 years of Rembrandt’s life, from 1650 until his death aged 63 in 1669, the exhibition covered a notably unhappy time of the Dutch artist. Bankruptcy, falling out of fashion, the death of his beloved mistress Hendrickje Stoffels (who died from the plague) and his only son who passed away a few years later. All these biographical information and details of each painting was cleverly written in the exhibition handbook.

Image via London Visitors

The gallery space was darkly lit with small spotlights to show of the paintings and drawings placed on dark grey walls. Doorways are hidden until the viewer notices that there are adjacent rooms all connected. This however, does not make it difficult to follow his works in a chronological order, rather the opposite. The dark and sombre atmosphere creates a sense of solemnity, making the viewer share in Rembrandt’s vision and sorrow. Sadness however, wasn’t the only subject that Rembrandt painted, he does intimate paintings on a big scale, one of my favourites being ‘The Jewish Bride’ (1665).

Portrait of a couple as Isaac and Rebecca, known as The Jewish Bride (1665–69). Oil on canvas

Risking competition, The National Gallery chose to open an exhibition during the Frieze art fair. Who knew that by curating a brilliant exhibition from someone long gone, that it would be the talk of the season.

*****

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Writer and visual artist // I write about culture and societal issues with a focus on the effects of colonialism, globalisation and capitalism.

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