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A brush with Young Rembrandt

Exhibition at Ashmolean sheds light on Master's early years

Trish Lee

Trish Lee


01635 886663

Young Rembrandt

ANOTHER coup for the Ashmolean: Young Rembrandt, running at the Oxford museum until June 7, is the first major exhibition in the UK to examine the early years of the Dutch master and his initial decade of work (1624-34). It demonstrates that far from being a prodigy, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-69), the 18-year-old son of a Leiden miller, struggled with technical difficulties and made mistakes before his remarkable development into one of the most celebrated artists of all time. Over three rooms, the show, jointly curated by the museum’s curator of Northern European Art An Van Camp and former director Prof Christopher Brown, explores his efforts to improve in 31 paintings by Rembrandt, 13 by his most important contemporaries – including Jan Lievens, with whom he enjoyed fruitful competition – and 90 drawings and prints from international and private collections.

Don’t expect huge canvasses – what surprises is the small scale of the paintings and the exquisite prints, including the artist’s own copper plates, on which you can examine the scratches and flaws of an inexperienced printmaker and are works of art in their own right. Many of his printed self-portraits were excercises in capturing facial expressions while observing himself in the mirror pulling faces, a reference for later works.

The absolute jewel of the exhibition is the painting where, just six years after his first clumsily-drawn, garishly painted efforts – as seen in the earliest work The Spectacles Seller – he delivers the masterpiece of his Leiden period Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem. The show also includes the newly-discovered Let the Little Children Come to Me (1627-8), on public display for the first time, and the 24cmx17cm self-portrait on copper Rembrandt Laughing (1628), which in 2007 was valued at £1,500 by a small Cirencester auction house as it wasn’t believed to be a Rembrandt original, but was later authenticated and was bought by the Getty Museum. Prof Brown said: “His progress is remarkable and the works in this exhibition demonstrate an amazing development from year to year. We can see exactly how he became the pre-eminent painter of Amsterdam and the universally adored artist he remains 350 years after his death.”

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