After a tense few days during which I feared I’d missed my chance – only a phone call to inquire about tickets saved me – I managed to get a ticket to the National Gallery‘s exhibition Rembrandt: The Late Works on its last day. My efforts proved to be well worth it: the exhibition was very well laid-out and organised, and I really appreciated the fact that information about the pictures was set out in a booklet rather than presented on labels beside the paintings – this meant that though the exhibition was very busy, it was still manageable because you weren’t faced with hordes of people crowded round the pictures trying to read the captions.
Of course, it goes without saying that the actual content – Rembrandt’s work – was stunning. I particularly liked the five self-portraits on display at the beginning: full of variety, they captured the painter in different moods and at different stages. The most affecting was the portrait painted in the year of his death (1669), which shows him as visibly frail, but I also liked the 1659 portrait in which he wears a quizzical expression.
The exhibition focuses on the later years of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), and like the Late Turner exhibition at Tate Britain that I visited last year, it shows that the artist did not become complacent or enter into a decline during his last years, but continued to experiment and develop as an artist. In particular, The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis (c.1661) shows a profound mastery of the creation of darkness and light in painting, while his two versions of the Roman heroine Lucretia (1664 and 1666) are extremely powerful.
Less outwardly grand, but equally masterful, is his picture of his son Titus at his desk (1655), an affectionate and intimate portrait. Fully finished paintings sit alongside sketches and drawings in the exhibition, showing the developments of Rembrandt’s ideas and style, and several of these are exquisite, although their role in the development of the artist’s work will likely appeal more to other artists or art students.
This exhibition was well worth the visit and I am glad I managed to make it before the end.