Published  05/11/2001

Rembrandt’s women reach London


This summer’s Edinburgh exhibition (National Galleries of Scotland) has reached the Royal Academy. Critics feel that this is a less successful hang, however. Then there is the conjunction with Auerbach’s exhibition, possibly too sharply disjunctive a combination of ages and brilliance for some. If one were thinking of double bills, de Kooning’s Women (see Archive) might have been more harmonious. Historically, Rembrandt’s tender, cherishing realism towards his female subjects seems to raise male hackles. Sir Kenneth Clark once pronounced that he thought Rembrandt had prospected far and wide ‘to find the most deplorable bodies imaginable’. On a more recently complimentary basis Simon Schama in his biography of Rembrandt (1999) found that Rembrandt was more interested in himself than in his models. Nor could Schama quite come to terms with the remarkable drawing by Rembrandt of a Danish murderess hanging from the scaffold together with the murder weapon. Or did it disturb a cosy ideal of Rembrandt? The divide between art and life never frightened Rembrandt — he took life as he found it, debts and all, and reacted with a realism tinged with tenderness (see August Review and John Berger). For those who missed this well-curated exhibition in its original location as conceived in Edinburgh, the RA version is still too good to miss.

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