Late Turner – Painting Set Free at Tate Britain and Rembrandt: The Late Works at the National Gallery: curators have been drawn to the later years of these well-known painters.
In the case of Rembrandt (1606 – 1669), his later years were marked by personal hardships, yet he still managed to produce masterpieces. His wife died when he was aged 36, leaving him a single father, around the same time he painted The Night Watch (1642, currently on loan to the Rijksmuseum). His piece The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis (1661) was hung temporarily in the Amsterdam Town Hall but was ultimately rejected and returned to him. Finally, he was forced to sell his private collection in the 1650s.
This turmoil could explain why Rembrandt used high realism in his paintings, and avoided any idealisation of his own image in his numerous self-portraits. He painted his heavy eyelids, wrinkles, and bulbous nose with great detail; while the clothing is consciously unremarkable. As the museum booklet suggested, Rembrandt was defying the prevailing orthodoxy that only beauty and perfection were worthy of being represented in art.
The exhibition includes many prints so patience is required if you go at peak times, but your patience will be rewarded as you discover Rembrandt’s amendments and the differences between the editions. I was fascinated by his use of delicate techniques on distinct materials with beautiful printing qualities, such as vellum (veal skin) and Japanese paper.
My highlights of the NG exhibition are the daring foreshortened corpse in The Anatomy Lesson of Joan Deyman and the spectacular emotions rendered in the two Lucretia portraits. It was lovely seeing masterpieces I knew from the Rijksmuseum and National Gallery of Washington together in London. Rembrandt: The Late Works runs at the National Gallery until 18 January 2015 and will travel to the Rijskmuseum (February 12, 2015 to May 17, 2015).