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Rembrandt or not? Figure it out at the Getty

November 28, 2009 |  9:00 am

Rembrandt drawing Which one is the Rembrandt?

That’s the question at “Drawings by Rembrandt and His Pupils: Telling the Difference.” Opening Dec. 8 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the exhibition will pair the 17th century Dutch master’s works with drawings of the same or similar subjects by 15 other artists -- and point out ways to tell them apart.

The goal, says Lee Hendrix, the Getty’s senior curator of drawings who organized the show with an international team of colleagues, is to condense 30 years of scholarship into an illuminating exhibition. “We are demystifying the process, saying this is the way it was done and you can do it too,” he said.

Take two pen and brown ink drawings called “Christ as a Gardener Appearing to Mary Magdalene,” one by Rembrandt (right), the other by Ferdinand Bol (below). Both works, based on the story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the recently risen Christ, were once thought to be by Rembrandt.

Bol drawing “But the treatments are very different,” Hendrix says. “Rembrandt makes Christ look magisterial. He lifts a finger and says, ‘Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my father’ and Mary collapses in emotion. In Bol’s drawing, Christ is very nonchalant and speaks to her rather casually. Another thing to look at is the background. Rembrandt’s pen barely touches the sheet as he creates the architecture of Jerusalem in the distance. Bol uses dark lines, making it come forward instead of receding.”

To read the full story in Sunday’s Arts & Books section, click here.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

Photos: “Christ as a Gardener Appearing to Mary Magdalene” by Rembrandt and Ferdinand Bol. Credit: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Comments () | Archives (2)

Thank you for this article. It is one of the few things that my husband and I actually both read and discussed together. We are actually talking about art! Woo hoo!

"An introductory section offers clues to identifying Rembrandt's style, such as his sketchy and suggestive line, selective detail and precise rendering of light. His work is further distinguished by its intense emotional impact, dynamic composition, expressive faces and eloquent body language."

Can I make the leap to say the criteria for identifying Rembrandt is applicable to distinguish good art from any period?

Think of Ed McCann’s forceful voice to Johnny Carson: “Everything that is the criteria for good art is listed in this series of examples used to identify Rembrandt from his students!”

Carson as Karnac the Magnificent might say if he was a contemporary artist, critic or investor: “You are wrong rabbit skin glue breath! There is so much less to modern art! All rules based on skill hinder an artists purity of expression!”

Quoting the story:
“Establishing distinctive stylistic traits. Multiple interpretations of the same subject came under particular scrutiny as scholars learned to identify the individual artists' visual vocabularies.”

This is precisely what makes an artist unique that has been stripped from the aesthetic vocabulary of today’s contemporary artist. If you can’t draw, anyone can forage idea-based art that uses the limited approach of found objects or imagery collaged together. Future art historians are in for a right go in identifying today’s identity free art. Lets hope artist start mixing their own personal glue that can be uniquely analyzed.


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