Rembrandt show in Bridgeport

PHYLLIS A.S. BOROS pasboros@ctpost.com
Connecticut Post Online

Article Launched:09/12/2007 06:01:10 PM EDT

Arguably one of the most impressive anniversary celebrations that Bridgeport has ever seen is happening at the Housatonic Museum of Art. And the tune being sung is "Happy Birthday, Rembrandt."

In observance of Rembrandt van Rijn's 400th birthday, the museum is hosting a Syracuse University touring exhibition that features 19 works on paper by the Dutch master.

"Rembrandt: The Consummate Etcher and Other 17th Century Printmakers" boasts 40 prints by 17 Dutch, French, Austrian and Flemish artists. It will be on view through Oct. 28.

"Things are happening in Bridgeport," Museum Director Robbin Zella said last week. "This is so exciting for the city, which I doubt has ever seen an exhibit of Rembrandts. It's an extraordinary opportunity" for those in the region to see "an extraordinary collection" — without huge crowds or entry fees. Zella, who engineered the visit, noted that although Rembrandt's 400th anniversary was last year, celebrations to mark his birth in 1606 are continuing around the world.

Zella said she also scheduled the exhibition in Bridgeport "to coincide with the Rembrandt show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art," in Manhattan, which opens on Tuesday. (That exhibition, "Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," will present for the first time in one exhibition all 228 Dutch paintings in the museum's holdings. It runs through Jan. 6.)

Bridgeport's show — made possible by a $6,500 grant from an anonymous donor — was curated by Domenic J. Iacono, director of Syracuse University's several art galleries on campus and in Manhattan and Florence, Italy.

Iacono, who also teaches the history of printmaking, pointed out earlier this week that the prints were selected from the university's collection of several thousand items. For more than 50 years, Syracuse University has specialized in collecting works on paper through major gifts and purchases, he noted. The university frequently packages works from its collections into thematic exhibits and makes them "available to smaller museums and educational facilities." The Rembrandt show, he said, was assembled in 1997 and has been shown in about 20 venues. Iacono said that Rembrandt's renown is well deserved. In the brochure that accompanies the exhibition, Iacono writes:

"Rembrandt is generally considered one the most important figures in western art history. This ranking has been remarkably stable in the 300 years since his death" in 1669, "and is due in part to his virtuoso style, the wide range of subject matter he dealt with in his work, and his prolific output.

"Typically, it is his painting that garners the most attention with the public, but his etchings" — he created nearly 300 original etchings during his career — "demonstrate the same genius, variety of subjects, and vitality that he generated with his brush."

The curator has arranged the show into four sections: landscapes, portraits, genre and religious subjects. Among the artists are Jan Van der Velde II (1593-1641); Lucas Vorstermans (1595-1675); Jacques Callot (1592-1635); Adrian Van Ostade (1610-1685) and Cornelis

Dusart (1660-1704). Most prints on view were done during the artist's lifetime; those that fit in this category are identified in the exhibit as a "period impression." A few prints are marked "posthumous impression," made from the artist's plate after his death.

The majority of prints in the show are etchings. Etching, according to one common definition, is an intaglio technique whereby a design is carved or engraved into a metal plate with acid. The plate is coated with a ground (such as wax) that is impervious to the acid, through which the artist draws to expose the metal. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath until the open lines are "sufficiently bitten." Finally, the ground is removed and the plate inked and printed. Etching is commonly done in concert with other intaglio processes, including drypoint (without acid) and aquatint.

Among the Rembrandt prints, all done during his lifetime, are "Landscape with a cottage and a large tree," 1641; "The Pancake Woman," 1635; "The artist's mother in a cloth headdress," 1633; "Self-portrait Drawing at a Window," 1648; and "Christ seated disputing with the doctors," 1654.

Iacono said he deeply admires Rembrandt for his ability to create "intimate scenes" in his prints that can be savored and enjoyed one-on-one.

"There is the sense that Rembrandt is talking to you . . . I've always just loved that about his prints.

"In his self-portraits" for example, "just look at the face . . . it's not a blank stare, he's looking into your eyes. He's made eye-to-eye contact, bringing you into his world."

Capturing emotion in artworks was "not all that typical of the 17th century," Iacono pointed out. "Rembrandt was one of the first . . . and he did it very well."

The Housatonic Museum of Art, which has one of the largest art collections belonging to any two-year college in the United States, is at Housatonic Community College, 900 Lafayette Boulevard in downtown Bridgeport. Museum hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Thursdays to 7 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sundays noon to 4 p.m. Admission is always free. Free parking is available in the college's parking garage. For additional information, visit www.Housatonicmuseum.org