Happy birthday, Rembrandt | VailDaily.com

Happy birthday, Rembrandt

Laura A. Ball
"Eyes Wide Open," by Rembrandt.

BEAVER CREEK – When I stepped through the doors of the May Gallery Tuesday evening I stepped into a world not my own, but a world belonging to Rembrandt.A glass of wine in hand, I set out to discover what these works of art had to lend themselves. I marveled at the detail Rembrandt portrayed in such a difficult medium and on such a small scale. Not only was he digging these images into a copper plate, he was drawing them backward, because when the plates are inked and printed to paper the image is turned around. The carved, colorless figures evoke so much vitality and emotion, it seems they could start moving and talking to you at any moment. How precise his movements must have been to achieve these tiny, accurate renderings. As I toured the room, each etching ignited a circle of quiet discussion among observers fascinated by the clues as to what the artist’s life might have been like. Why are the etchings are so small? What does the shape of the subject’s eyes reveal? Was the nude shocking in his day? How many of these etchings exist? Upon extinguishing our huddled conversations, we gathered collectively on couches and chairs in the intimate gallery to listen to curator Aaron Young unfurl the stories and secrets behind the images. Young explained that the high cost of paper in Rembrandt’s time accounted for the small size of etchings. The process of printing was also very wasteful, because if you didn’t like the print, you could not reuse the paper. Wall space was also very limited in those days, and in fact most people would tuck the prints into a drawer rather than hang them.

A woman observed that if you look closely at his subjects that seem to be looking directly at you, you’ll notice they are cock-eyed. Young said it is believed that Rembrandt himself had a wall-eye, thus he saw others this way.A gentleman pointed out that a nude hanging in the back by the ladies’ lounge stands out among the collection. “It would have been pornographic in Rembrandt’s time. But that was just Rembrandt being Rembrandt. It was erotic in sensuality but not sexual. It was about form,” Young said. “He also wasn’t stupid. He knew that if it was something forbidden, everyone would want it. It was a very hot seller in his time.”Since the copper plate can be printed a multitude of times, how many etchings are there? The answer is, “We don’t know,” Young said. The number of plates Rembrandt created is also unknown. It is believed that there were just more than 300. About half of these plates exist today, most of them in museums. And because copper is a malleable substance, the plates wear down and the more you print, the fine lines lessen and become blurred, eventually so they can no longer be used. The Mowers, who privately own the collection of 65 Rembrandt etchings, sat among us, overjoyed by the conversation. They believe art is meant to be shared. So does Young.

“The demystification of art is very important to me,” Young said. “To try and make it snobby, to say, ‘We understand it, you don’t,’ is the last message that we want to give.”To illustrate his point, Young told a story about a now- famed artist.In the 1920s, Sydney Janus was a very successful art dealer in New York. He traveled to Europe bringing home works by the great impressionists, and made a fortune. One day he was persuaded to visit an artist’s studio by the name of Piet Mondrian. Mondrian showed Janus an oil painting he was working on consisting only of a few blocks of color. A busy man, Janus laid the money on the table, told Mondrian to send it when he was done and forgot about the painting.Two and a half years later, a crate was delivered to Janus’ office postmarked with Mondrian’s Paris address. Inside was the painting with a note attached, reading, “Dear Sydney, Please excuse the delay. I’ve been working on the blue.” “If you understand that you understand art,” Young said. “When Renoir died he said, ‘I never got to do the good paintings. I just never had time.’ That’s how artist’s think and Rembrandt thought that way. He was a perfectionist.”

By the way, the painting, “Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow,” is very famous today and worth nearly $14 million.I realized upon leaving that no price can be put upon art. No price can be put on the huge imprint Rembrandt left on the world. This year would mark the artist’s 400th birthday. I couldn’t help but wonder what Rembrandt would say if he were there to witness the people in this room talking about his life, his art. I couldn’t help but wonder if Rembrandt had stepped into my world that night.If you goOn Thursday, the Rembrandt collection will be displayed with a lecture and reception for $35 at 6:30 p.m. that includes wine and light hors d’oeuvres. Space is limited and reservations are required.

The etchings will also be open to the public for viewings on Saturday and Feb. 12 from 2-5 p.m. for a $10 fee, students are free. A docent will be on hand for public narratives at certain times each day. For more information on the Rembrandt exhibit and to make reservations, call 845-TIXS (8497), 888-920-ARTS (2787) or visit http://www.vilarcenter.org. For information on student viewings and lectures, contact Britton Roetzel at 845-7588. Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14641, or laball@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado

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