Master at Work

Legendary 17th century Dutch artist Rembrandt’s works adorn the walls of many museums across the globe and are revered as some of the world’s greatest art treasures.

By Ravindra Nath (Arts + Culture)

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Published: Fri 28 Aug 2009, 10:04 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:17 AM

Rembrandt was a great painter, but he was also a great graphic artist. In fact, during in his lifetime his fame was built around these prints which were sold and collected all over Europe, and his achievements in etching were as important as his great mastery of painting. Most of his prints, he completed 290 of them, were made between 1630 and 1655. More than 250 of them are with the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam. Now, art enthusiasts in the region have a rare opportunity to view a collection of his original prints at a month-long exhibition in Muscat — the first ever public show of its kind in the Middle East.

The Rembrandt in Oman exhibition is being held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Oman’s capital until September 19. The hotel’s Afrah ballroom has been redesigned to look like a museum hall, with the entrance styled on the Rembrandt House Museum.

On display are 100 of the master artist’s etchings, 79 from the Rembrandt House Museum and the remaining 21 from a private collection in Frankfurt, Germany. The exhibition is being held under tight security, with the venue protected by the latest electronic systems. Although none of the prints are for sale, their replicas will be auctioned on the last day and the proceeds donated to local Omani charities.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, who lived from 1606 to 1669, began to make etchings at a very young age and honed his skills in the technique during his lifetime. “He invented new approaches and techniques which enabled him to create subtleness and directness in paper works on even a very small scale,” says Janrense Boonstra, Director of the Rembrandt House Museum. “Rembrandt developed the etching technique into an art form in which he could express his own ideas and inventions

“In his lifetime, his reputation was spread far and wide by the quality of his prints, which were collected all over Europe and were very influential. Generations of printmakers were to follow his examples, including the Spanish artists Goya and the great Picasso,” he added. Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in 1631; his marriage in 1634 to Saskia van Uylenburgh, the cousin of a successful art dealer, enhanced his career, bringing him into contact with wealthy patrons who eagerly commissioned portraits. The Rembrandt House Museum, besides preserving the house where the artist lived from 1639 until 1658, is also a centre for the collection, preservation and study of his work, specifically his etchings of which it has the most complete collection in the world.

The museum receives around 200,000 visitors each year.

“What Oman is hosting is a truly unique event and the country has the privilege to be the first one to do so in the entire region,” says Dutch Ambassador Stefan van Wersch. “This is a fantastic occasion for Omanis and others who live here to see the works of one of the art world’s great maestros.”

The much-anticipated exhibition, the result of year-long efforts by the Al Salmi Library and National Performing Arts and Events, is open to members of the public from 10am to midnight every day free of charge.

Wersch adds: “There were so many questions about security and insurance, even things like humidity were a factor. For example, in the room where his work is kept, you need a certain amount of humidity.

“These are not small matters. It has to be perfect. We had to look into all of these and find solutions; thankfully we did. The assignment has been a complicated one, but it has been worth it.”

Wersch remarks that the show takes visitors back to the 17th century. “There is significance to this. It was in that century the Omanis and the Dutch first met. Both sea faring nations, we had much in common and for a while we even had a consul in Muscat.”

The exhibition features the full range of the Rembrandt’s favourite subjects, including scenes from the Bible, mythology, landscapes, portraits and still life. Also on show are two of the original copper plates that Rembrandt used to make his prints.

Michiel Kersten, assistant director of the Rembrandt House Museum and a well-known art historian who accompanied the prints as they were transported to Muscat, said each of Rembrandt’s prints sold for 100 guilders or more in his time. “That was a lot of money in those days. Prints have always been very expensive, because it takes time to make one. Today, the 100 prints are virtually priceless.”

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