Filed under: Art
Study Rembrandt's self-portrait, a monumental painting in a new show at the Frick Collection in New York City, and you see a man who looks much older than 52. Rembrandt presents himself as a bear of a man, draped in a luxurious fur cape, a golden pleated smock with a red sash wound around his waist. He holds a silver-tipped cane. He looks indomitable, strong, and resolute. The American painter Kenyon Cox's description of the painting in 1910 says it all: "It is the head of an old lion at bay, worn and melancholy, yet conscious of his strength, determined, and a little defiant." Yet in reality, in 1658, the year he painted the portrait, Rembrandt was morose and troubled. He had declared bankruptcy two years earlier. His family was hounded by debtors. He was forced to sell his many collections and even the house and studio he had occupied since 1639. His reputation suffered. Commissions lagged and his once large group of students and followers had all but abandoned him and in some cases, even his "Rembrandtesque" style.
The monumental self portrait has pride of place in the Oval Room in the Frick's new show, "Rembrandt and His School; Masterworks from the Frick and Lugt Collection." It presents work by the master, his pupils, and followers in a blockbuster celebration of Rembrandt's paintings, drawings, and etchings. Henry Clay Frick (1849--1919) and Dutch art historian and collector Frederik Johannes Lugt (1884-1970) were both great admirers of Rembrandt van Rijn. The precocious Lugt at 12 had started to catalog Dutch and Flemish drawings in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum while Frick once said that the the talents he would most like to have possessed were Rembrandt's. These two admirers were renowned collectors with the eye, the connections, and the deep wallets to buy what pleased them.