Wednesday, January 27

An Answer for Jennifer

My friend Jennifer of The Newlywed Diaries recently bought a small reproduction painting for her living room. She has been noticing dutch style portraits popping up all over the decorating world and had been eyeing this at a local store. She decided to buy it this weekend and hung it in her living room. I think it looks really nice:

She suspected it was a Rembrandt and she is correct!

A Young Girl Leaning on a Window-Sill, c 1645
by Rembrandt van Rijn

This portrait, titled A Young Girl Leaning on a Window-Sill, was painted when the artist was 39 and at the height of his career in Amsterdam. It is definitely a captivating and slightly sensual portrait! The unknown young woman is leaning casually out a window, rolling her gold necklace through her fingers. Her gaze is alittle tired (but not bored ) and she seems to be staring right at the viewer. Johnathan Jones, art writer for The Guardian newspaper, sees this work as more sexual in nature than I do. (The rosy cheeks, loose shirt, cleavage, tousled hair....). If you are interested, you can read his comments here.

Rembrandt's portraits were highly sought after in the 1630' and 40's when his studio grew to employ several apprentices. (1) The work turned out of his shop has this distinct, smokey, slightly rough look. His figure paintings are famous for both their life-like detail and for the dramatic use of light. Rembrandt's subjects tend to look as if they are emerging out of the shadows, or that the sun is peaking through heavy curtains to give us just a quick glimpse of their face.

Philosopher in Meditation, c. 1632
The Louvre, Paris

The artist's faithfulness to this style can be seen in the over 90 self portraits he painted throughout his lifetime. He often painted himself in costume (as a beggar, in oriental dress, as the Apostle Paul etc) and this prolific series helped him become one of the most recognizable artists in the Dutch Republic. (2)

Self Portrait as a Yong Man (age 22)
c. 1628
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Self Portrait in Painter's Costume (age 56)
c. 1660-62
Kenwood House, London, UK

Jennifer's painting is excellent representation of Rembrandt's work. While his shadowy style does tend to lead people see his subjects as dark and unhappy, A Young Girl Leaning on a Window-Sill is a great example of his ability to capture relaxation and happiness in his subject's features. The background may be dark, but her face is full of light.

(1) A Worldly Art by Mariet Westermann*

*I highly recommend Ms. Westerman's books, her research is great but she doesn't overwhelm you with hard to read academic language. A Worldly Art is a good place to start if you want to learn more about the artistic and political history of the Dutch Republic. It is available in paperback.

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