Posted October 2017

Rembrandt ‘Lightening the Darkness’ Exhibition

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606-1669 the three trees (only state) 1643. Etching, engraving and drypoint on paper. 21.1 x 28 cm. © Norfolk Museums Service

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606-1669 the three trees (only state) 1643. Etching, engraving and drypoint on paper. 21.1 x 28 cm. © Norfolk Museums Service

A major exhibition of prints, paintings and drawings by Rembrandt is to be held at the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery from Saturday 21 October until Sunday 7 January 2018. This is the latest in a series of world-class exhibitions mounted by the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.

Rembrandt’s fascination with print-making

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-1669) Self-portrait Leaning on a Stone-sill (II/II) 1639 etching with touches of drypoint on paper, 20.5 x 16.4 cm signed and dated in plate upper left 'Rembrandt f. / 1639' Norfolk Museums Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-1669) – Self-portrait Leaning on a Stone-sill (II/II) 1639 – etching with touches of drypoint on paper, 20.5 x 16.4 cm – Norfolk Museums Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

Rembrandt: Lightening the Darkness focuses specifically on one of the less well-known aspects of Rembrandt’s creativity, his fascination with print-making. The Dutch artist used this medium to explore innovative tonal gradations to produce evocative images of the Dutch landscape, biblical scenes and many introspective self-portraits.

Not many people today know that during his lifetime, Rembrandt was as famed for his etchings as for his paintings. In Britain, for example, he was far better known as a print maker.

A compelling exhibition

Forming the core of this compelling exhibition is the Norfolk Museums Service outstanding collection of Rembrandt etchings. It’s the fourth most important collection in the country after the British Museum, The Ashmolean Museum and The Fitzwilliam Museum.

The passionate art collector, Samuel Courtauld

The collection comprising 93 examples, was bequeathed to the Castle in 1951 in the will of the London art dealer Percy Moore Turner (1877-1950). He was a trusted advisor of Samuel Courtauld, a passionate art collector who helped to establish the Courtauld Collection and encouraged the Tate and National Galleries to purchase Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings for the nation.

Public access to art

Turner spent part of his life in Norwich and was involved with the Castle during the 1920s and 1930s. He believed in the importance of museums, and that the public should have access to great art.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Francesca Vanke, Keeper of Art and Curator of Decorative Art, and Dr Giorgia Bottinelli, Curator of Historic Art, both of Norwich Castle Museum.

This is the first time Norwich Castle’s extraordinary collection of etchings by Rembrandt have been exhibited as a group for more than thirty years. The exhibition demonstrates how Rembrandt’s handling of light and darkness, expressed purely through the medium of black lines and the white space around them, was unsurpassed. – Dr Francesca Vanke.

83 of the etchings from Norwich Castle’s Rembrandt collection are included in the exhibition. The subjects of the prints cover the whole range of his oeuvre including self-portraits, portraits of friends and family, among them a particularly lovely study of Rembrandt’s mother, landscapes, biblical scenes as well as genre and nude studies.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606-1669
 - the Flight into Egypt

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606-1669
 – the Flight into Egypt: Crossing a Brook (only state) 1654. Etching, engraving and drypoint on paper. 9.4 x 14.4 cm. © Norfolk Museums Service

Specially selected works

Rembrandt: Lightening the Darkness showcases his preoccupation with light and shade can be seen throughout his work, as exemplified by specially selected additional works which complement the prints.

Three oil paintings: A Woman in Bed from the National Galleries of Scotland, Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb from the Royal Collection and Anna and the Blind Tobit from the National Gallery have generously been loaned to Norwich for this exhibition.

Oil paintings generously loaned to the exhibition

The British Museum has also loaned a chalk and wash drawing The Angel preventing Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac, together with four prints. It is highly unlikely that these works have ever been exhibited together before.

By comparing prints with a chosen group of paintings and drawings we are showing how physical and metaphorical light and darkness meet and combine in Rembrandt’s work in all media, creating narratives that communicate to the viewer across time. – Dr Giorgia Bottinelli.

Each of the prints vividly reveals Rembrandt’s outstanding ability to capture the many nuances of light and shade. Enigmatic figures emerge from evocative darkened backgrounds, night is subtly differentiated from shadow, while narrative and emotion are heightened by contrasts and perfectly added highlights.

Printmaking, a constantly evolving art

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606-1669, the Pancake Woman (II/ VII) 1635

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606-1669, the Pancake Woman (II/ VII) 1635. Etching on paper. 10.9 x 7.9 cm. © Norfolk Museums Service

Unlike many artists Rembrandt printed the plates himself and often re-worked them as can be seen from comparing different states of the same subject. As such, printmaking to him was a constantly evolving art.

Different papers, European and Oriental, as well as oatmeal and vellum, were also a means to create further gradations in texture and contrast.

An artistic medium

Rembrandt treated print-making as an artistic medium in its own right, rather than merely a means of the mass reproduction of existing works, as had been the case up to this point.

The exhibition includes a print room to guide visitors through the print-making process while original copper etching plates from the Norwich School of artists drawn from the Norwich Castle collections will also illuminate this fascinating process.

Rembrandt ‘Lightening the Darkness’

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication, the first devoted to the Norwich Castle Rembrandt etching collection, written by Dr Francesca Vanke and Dr Giorgia Bottinelli. The exhibition is supported by headline sponsors Birketts LLP.

Visitors to the Rembrandt exhibition will also have the opportunity to view another new show, which brings together eleven locally- based contemporary artists working with print and printmaking.

Locally based artists

Their specially commissioned work has been produced in response to the modern and contemporary print collection at Norwich Castle and will be shown alongside the prints that have influenced or shaped the direction of the commissions.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an events programme as well as a publication and will draw connections with the Rembrandt exhibition in the main galleries to demonstrate the alluring appeal of printmaking on artists working today.

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