Late Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum
Upon stepping into the first room of the Rijksmuseum‘s new stunning Philips-wing you right away find yourself curiously being gazed upon by three pairs of eyes. All three of them belong to the same person and they have been fixed in the same position for some 350 years, but never before in the same room. The man they belong to is, of course, Rembrandt van Rijn and the three paintings are a nice representation of his many self-portraits.
It is a fitting opening room for this show put together by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in collaboration with London’s National Gallery. As you will see later, this show is doing a fantastic job in really getting to know Rembrandt the artist, the person, all the while you the visitor can admire some of his most famous works in a uniquely presented way. We say it form the beginning: this is a must-see exhibition, an opportunity that you will probably only have once in your lifetime. It’s not only our words, the director of the Rijksmuseum,Wim Pijbes, said exactly that at the big press opening of the show in early February:
Late Rembrandt is the exhibition of the year and maybe the best you’ll see in your lifetime.
If you happened to be in London at the end of 2014 you are the exception, this is your second chance to see almost the same show: the Late Rembrandt exhibition now visiting the artist’s home city of Amsterdam already had its spell at the National Gallery of the British capital. During this exhibition 90 of Rembrandt’s late works are displayed, some never before publicly exhibited. Simply put, this is a rare show.
The exhibition, which is described in some media as a blockbuster, is going to be the biggest show at the Rijksmuseum this year. While it might sound like big words, it’s really not an unrealistically set expectation by the museum’s directors. For us the experience felt very unique. It’s not often that at the end of your tour, you just don’t want to leave the place, you keep turning back to see more, to absorb some more of the aura this collection transpires. After all, having all these works from various collections seen together is a first and who knows when, if ever, the opportunity will come again. The feeling of exclusivity of the Late Rembrandt exhibition is definitely very high.
For a good part of the past ten years the Rijksmuseum organisation has been busy preparing for this exhibition. The end result is the most expensive exhibition ever put together in The Netherlands, with an estimated budget of €5 million.
The common denominator for the show is that only Rembrandt’s work from the last period of his life – from about 1651 until his death in 1669 – are displayed. With patience, diplomacy and careful preparation, Amsterdam’s finest museum eventually brought together the close to hundred works. They are partially from the museum’s own collection, but the main attraction of the show is the uniqueness of the other works. A big part of the artworks are lent from the current owners, about 35 different international museums and private collections.
In many cases the decisive factor to convince the owners to lend out the works was, as per the director of the Rijksmuseum Wim Pijbes, the idea to return at least once in their lifetime the works to the artist’s place of birth, Amsterdam. A better opportunity than this exhibition has never previously materialised, this was the moment of a lifetime.
Rembrandt’s Works Organised by Theme
As we walked through the new Philips Wing of the Rijksmuseum with our multimedia tour in hand, the first main observation was that the works are arranged by theme rather than chronologically. This approach is not a first to the Rijkmuseum, in a similar fashion last year’s exhibition Art As Therapy by Alain de Botton played on the conceptual idea of presenting art. Organising the artworks this way serves the viewer really well and it also gives a fantastic opportunity to get to know and understand Rembrandt the person much better. The paintings, drawings and prints are given every opportunity to shine together, which without the current context might have been lost
Besides life themes such as intimacy, musings and reconciliations, special attention is also paid to what made Rembrandt into the great master he was, and what makes his style so unique. By highlighting Rembrandt’s unique technique and his revolutionary ability to use light, the exhibition really shows the technical skills of the great Dutch master. Just to mention a few, his etching technique and the extensive use of the palette knife is well documented and clearly demonstrated throughout the collection.
With fascinating background stories on our multimedia tour (we recommend you to spend the few extra Euros on it, well worth the money), the works of Rembrandt more than ever get enlivened and the attention is drawn to the subtle details. What, for example, is the significance of the male hand on the chest of the Jewish Bride?
Getting to Know Rembrandt
The great benefit of this exhibition is the opportunity to get to know Rembrandt the person, especially during his final years. The artist eventually suffered some serious setbacks after years of success, when he was forced into bankruptcy and lost his wife. ‘Late Rembrandt’ – without pushing facts into your face – slowly and masterfully explains the subtle emotions characteristic for the artist and how he lived his life. There are clear opportunities to get insights into his spiritual thoughts, his friendships, problems he wrestled with, his view on the everyday life in his city of birth.
Maybe most of all: the exhibition shows that Rembrandt went his own way, he almost comes across as some kind of gentle rebel. Unlike his contemporaries, Rembrandt didn’t follow the established norms. Thanks to the exhibition it is easier to understand what really makes a Rembrandt so special: be it his experimental techniques, but just as much his choice of motifs and his different approach in the depiction of the commonly used concepts, ‘Late Rembrandt’ shines light on a unique master.
Rembrandt Is Coming Home
As mentioned, the exhibition is put together in collaboration with the National Gallery in London, where it had its first stop late last year. Now when Rembrandt is “coming home” the exhibition includes a few extra highlights not displayed in London. Four of the paintings – the Family Portrait, Portrait of Jan Six, Self Portrait as Zeuxis and Jacob and the Angel – can only be seen here in Amsterdam.
Another important detail of the Amsterdam exhibition is the setting. No offense to London, but we do believe that Rembrandt is best served in his city of birth, for one. Also the newly reopened Philips wing of the Rijksmuseum is a fantastically beautiful space for housing an exhibition of this magnitude.
The Late Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum exhibition will run until 17 May 2015. You can be assured that there will be big crowds, and to avoid spending your time at the entrance queuing instead of admiring the exhibition we highly recommend to buy your tickets in advance. Click here for more information. The tickets are valid for a specific time slot and it can only be bought together with the general admission to the museum. The opening hours are daily from 10 am to 5 pm. The combined entrance fee costs €25 Euros and if you already have other discount cards like the Dutch ‘Museumcard’ the surcharge you’ll have to pay is only €7.50.
We highly advice you to rent the Multimedia Tour at the Rijksmuseum for the additional €5, it is well worth it. The multimedia tour is also available for free as part of the Rijksmuseum App, which you can download in the App store or Google Play for free.
After seeing the exhibition you are further intrigued and your appetite for more Rembrandt-knowledge remains unsatiated? Then we have good news for you: parallel to this exhibition, there are various other activities organized around Rembrandt.
Walking with Rembrandt
Rembrandt spent most of his life – from 1631 to 1669 – in Amsterdam. During the Rembrandt City Walk, in approximately two hours you can wonder along the route highlighting the sixteen most important locations in Rembrandt’s life. The locations are ranging from the places where the artist lived to the spots of his greatest works of art, such as where the Night Watch was made. As you know, Amsterdam is any way best enjoyed by walking around, so here’s a fun treasure hunt for you.
A map of the trail can be downloaded here or picked up in the Rijksmuseum, at the local tourist office and at several hotels.
Rijksmuseum Canal Cruise Special: ‘The Final Rembrandt’
During a boat trip, organized by the Rijksmuseum in cooperation with the Blue Boat Company, you can see some of the main locations in Rembrandt’s life from the water. Where did the artist paint and where were his preferred spots for working? You can see all that and the accompanying audio tour takes you back to Rembrandt’s time by filling in some additional details about life back then.
For reservations and more information: blueboat.nl. The cruise including the entrance fee to Rijksmuseum and the Late Rembrandt exhibition costs €40, or €46 if you include a visit to the Rembrandt House (see below).
The Rembrandt House
The Rembrandt House – the house where Rembrandt lived much of his life, at least until his bankruptcy – is nowadays a museum. The exhibition here presents works of Rembrandt’s pupils who accompanied him during the last years of his life. These artists had all been trained as painters, but they sought out Rembrandt’s mentoring to further refine and deepen their skills.
In addition to the relationship between Rembrandt and his pupils, the Rembrandt House exhibition also highlights the relationship between modern masters and their pupils, a presentation going under the name of Studio R.
The exhibition will run until 17 May. The regular entrance fee is €12.50, including the audio tour. The Rembrandt House Museum is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.
Projection Claudius Civilis in the Royal Palace
Both the Night Watch as well as the painting of Claudius Civilis hung in the distant past in the old town hall of Amsterdam, now the Royal Palace, simply called the Dam. Over the years, both paintings went through changes and unfortunately only remained intact partially. The remaining part of Claudius Civilis is now on display for the Late Rembrandt occasion in the Rijksmuseum, but for the curious ones a unique reconstruction of the painting will be temporarily projected in the Royal Palace. This was Rembrandt’s biggest painting ever made, some 5.5 times 5.5 metres, bigger than his Night Watch, and it can be nice seeing it in its original setting, although only virtually. For more information please visit paleisamsterdam.nl/claudiuscivilis.
Documentary The Making of Late Rembrandt
Are you curious how this exhibition was put together and prepared? Or somehow would like to take part of the Rembrandt-craze of Amsterdam, but not able to visit the Dutch capital?
The documentary The Making of Late Rembrandt gives a look behind the scenes through interviews with the various curators of the show. Through the help of various artists the documentary also demonstrates the techniques used by Rembrandt and the developments that we see in Rembrandt’s work throughout the years.
The documentary is being screened in more than 1,000 cinemas worldwide from the 17th of February. For more information click here.
We hope you enjoy your Late Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum experiences in Amsterdam and if there was anything specific you liked or found useful for other to know about, please leave a comment here below.