Rembrandt van Rijn, "Bust of an Old Man with Folded Arms," circa 1629-30
via Culture Monster:
December 13, 2009
For artists, drawing is thinking made visible. Pencil, crayon, chalk or ink put to paper is a way for the brain to connect to the hand through the eye. As artistic thought evolves, so does the image on the sheet. And the more that thought deepens and matures, transforming the general into the specific and lifelessness into dynamism, whether subtle or bold, the more profound and moving a drawing gets.
Seventeenth-century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn is famous for many things, one of which is establishing a popular taste for paintings that depict old men and women. The work pictures people who personify a condition of seasoned thought. Is it any wonder Rembrandt developed that for himself through the lifelong practice of drawing?
An exceptional show at the J. Paul Getty Museum puts Rembrandt's drawings under a magnifying glass — literally, in fact, in galleries equipped with those hand-held lenses for close study of the artist's renderings. (Not for nothing was the microscope perfected in 17th century Holland, where seeing closely and intimately became an obsession.) The aim is to compare Rembrandt's with drawings by his most important students — 15 of the roughly 50 he is known to have taught over his four-decade career.
Getty curator Lee Hendrix and her colleague Peter Schatborn, former head of the prints and drawings department at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, have assembled 103 works. About 70 are or were at one time attributed to Rembrandt, but scholarship since the 1970s has revised those opinions. Fifty-four drawings are here identified as being by Rembrandt, with one still a matter of dispute. The show is an exercise in and demonstration of connoisseurship.
And it's deftly organized to show visitors how those distinctions between Rembrandt's drawings and his pupils' can be discerned.
Rembrandt is one of those artists about whom questions of attribution have long been raised. The drawings can be especially difficult. His students labored hard to mimic his achievement. Sometimes Rembrandt “corrected” their renderings by drawing over their work. In the casual atmosphere of the studio, completed drawings by master and pupils would often be intermingled. And Rembrandt's own work also evolved as years went by, so the standard of visual measurement is always changing.
Also, these drawings were rarely signed. Affixing a signature was common for a painting or a print — a way for an artist to say, “Finished.” A drawing, by contrast, is typically a thought still in the process of unfolding. Why sign that?