Rembrandt Britain’s Discovery of the Master -National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh

Sunday 26th August, 2018

Have Art Pass will travel! Having managed to nab an Art Pass on a special offer I thought it best to make use of it whilst we were in Edinburgh and as Rembrandt is rightly known as one of the great master painters so it seemed churlish not to take the opportunity to see this show while in Edinburgh.

About half the exhibition is Rembrandt’s own works and the rest are in his style, inspired by, or show the connections between him and Britain. I’ll be honest, all I was really interested in was the stuff by the man himself and I wasn’t disappointed.

There are a pair of portraits (comissions) of a British Pastor and his wife that are spectatular and make you wish he had done more like them. The prints and drawings, often overlooked, are gorgeous. I once spent a glorious couple of hours in the British Museam Prints and Drawings room looking at some of them up close. To hold Rembrandt sketches and etching in my hands, with no glass, no filter, nothing other than the museam provided gloves between me and them. Thrilling. Electric and I get a tingle every time I think about it. The Study Room is publicly accessible (you have to apply and days of access are restricted) but if you are a fan of art take the opportunity. I remember them asking “what do you want to see?” and I timidly enquired if they had any Da Vinci “yes of course” and there I was holding actual Da Vinci sketches. I could barely breathe with the excitement of it all.

I’ve digressed, I was talking about Rembrandt. A man who painted women with love. With care. With respect. As they were, fleshy and flawed, but still beautiful. I have always loved the painting of his lovers for those reasons. They aren’t the lavicius paintings of a man in lust, the women aren’t objects, they are real people he loved. He could represent people in paint better than almost anyone else and that is why his art has remained so loved.

An Old Woman reading is so much beter in the flesh than it looks on a computer screen, where it looks dark and dull. In life the colours sing out of the blackness and the detailing is superb. It was one of the paintings I spent time with, moving up close, then further back, to drink in as much of it as I could. There is a dignity in Rembrandt’s portratiture, a human quality, tenderness and care. Also playful hunour. The best of us, in other words. For me, he captured what it is to be human.

There are, of course, self portraits. The selfie is not new! One in paticular caught my eye as I wandered round the rest of the room. Someone else was admiring it, I’ll come back to you Papa Rembrandt I said, let me look at the rest first. When I did approach I almost felt him speak to me, ah there you are!, with a slight scold for ignoring him, but also a smile that I had kept my word. I have a relationship with art similar to that I do with music. They both tap into my emotional and intellectual worlds at the same time and the sensations can be overwhelming. With love, admiration, shock, disgust, horror, laughter and a slew of other emotions. I feel a connection. With great portrature I feel a sense of seeing the other person and of them seeing me, that we are connected in ways that make no logical sense. Only with sculpture and paint can we reveal our true selves.

I grew up a working class kid on a concrete housing estate in London. My Dad was a milkman and my Mum a housewife. I’m not of the establishment, the elite, or educated in art, but I know when art makes me feel. I know art is not only for everyone, but that it is vital. It is the lifeblood of humanity, we are the only species who make art. We aren’t the only ones with communication systems or who can use tools, or who live in complcated societal structures, but we are the only ones who create art. It is that vitality, humanity and connectivity that I feel every time I am among great art. It is good for the soul.

 

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