Christopher Lloyd Rembrandt & Co
DULWICH PICTURE GALLERY, UNTIl SEPTEMBER 3 The 400th anniversary of the birth of Rembrandt van Rijn has spawned a number of exhibitions in Europe. None, however, will have quite the same visual focus and intellectual distinction as Rembrandt & Co: Dealing in Masterpieces, organised jointly by Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Rembrandt House in Amsterdam. By concentrating on a particular period of the artist's life while he was still at a formative stage, the exhibition helps the viewer to understand the course of Rembrandt's early development. This is not an exercise in tokenism therefore, but a carefully considered undertaking calculated to satisfy scholars and general public alike.
For several years now Dulwich Picture Gallery has been pursuing an exemplary exhibitions policy which has introduced the public to a number of artists and themes not pursued by other galleries. For me, personally, map reading was always a deterrent in reaching Dulwich, but now that I have discovered the train (a short trip from Victoria Station) Dulwich Picture Gallery has become one of life's pleasures. Quite apart from the exhibitions, the attraction lies in the architectural importance of the building and the quality and historical significance of the permanent collection.
Rembrandt & Co examines the dealing activities of Hendrick Uylenburgh and his son Gerrit between 1625 and 1675. Dealers in art at that time not only bought and
sold paintings. sculpture and drawings, but also acted as appraisers, valuers and adjudicators. Hendrick Uylenburgh's father was a cabinet maker at the Polish court and his two sons and grandson were ostensibly trained as artists — a skill that was of some consequence in 17th-century dealing as regards restoration and the somewhat dubious practice of making copies of works of art. Having moved from Poland to Amsterdam, Hendrick's reputation was quickly established and widely acknowledged throughout Europe.
The addition of Rembrandt to the Uylenburghs' business was mutually beneficial. The artist arrived from Leiden in 1631 and provided a loan of 1,000. guilders. It is not known exactly why this act of generosity occurred, but a collaboration lasting four years ensued which was of vital importance to Rembrandt's development. During this period he became the pre-eminent portraitist in the Netherlands. Many of these early
portraits (Maurits Huygens and Jacob III de Gheyn for example) are meticulously observed and tautly controlled, set against plain backgrounds yet perfectly positioned within the picture space. The portrait of Agatha Bas is in superb condition (note the impasto on the fan, the delicacy of the lace collar and the treatment of the jewellery). It is one of the finest portraits that Rembrandt ever painted and no one should deny themselves the opportunity of admiring it.
The artist also made progress in other directions during these years, particularly as a printmaker. There are several examples of prints in this exhibition, but, more importantly, there are the grisailles made in preparation for prints on a large scale. Joseph Telling his Dreams, The Entombment and especially The Preaching of St John the Baptist have a narrative power and mystery that only Goya could rival.
Both Hendrick and Gerrit Uylenburgh created workshops where Jurgen Ovens, Johannes Lingelbach and Gerard de Lairesse among others were active. While in Hendrick's workshop, Rembrandt met and married Saskia Uylenburgh, Hendrick's cousin, in 1634. Although there are images of Saskia in the exhibition, not enough is made of this relationship, which, given the very human basis of Rembrandt's art as a whole, is to be regretted.
Art dealing was a hazardous business. While Gerrit Uylenburgh was influential in assembling the so-called "Dutch Gift" of paintings and sculpture made in 1660 by the States General to mark the restoration of Charles II, he ran foul of the Elector of Brandenburg in 1671-2. This long drawn-out affair dented his reputation and in an increasingly depressed financial market weakened his position. The end came in 1675-6 when Gerrit Uylenburgh retreated to London and became Surveyor of Pictures to Charles II — not a bad job really in the circumstances.