Tag Archives: European art

Rembrandt van Rijn – 17th Century Dutch Master

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (July 15, 1606 – October 4, 1669) is regarded as the greatest artist of Holland’s Golden Age and one of the most important in European art. A prolific painter, draftsman and etcher, his portraits and artistic interpretations of the Bible remain unique. By the end of his life, Rembrandt had produced over 600 paintings (including nearly 100 self-portraits), around 400 etchings, and 2,000 drawings.

Rembrandt was born in Leiden, the Netherlands, the fifth son of a miller. Despite coming from a relatively modest family, his parents attached great importance to education, and Rembrandt began his studies at the Latin School. At the age of 14, he was enrolled at the University of Leiden. But the program did not interest him, and he soon left to study art first, a three-year apprenticeship with a local master, Jacob van Swanenburgh, and then, in Amsterdam, with Pieter Lastman, a local master known for his historical paintings.

Under Lastman’s tuition, Rembrandt became exposed to works of Caravaggio and the Italian masters. His interest in religious and mythological subjects was most likely a result of Lastman’s influence. After six months, and having mastered everything he had been taught, Rembrandt returned to Leiden, where he was soon so highly regarded that, although barely 22 years old, he took his first pupils.

In 1631 Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam and settled there permanently. He became a leading portrait painter and received many commissions for portraits as well as for paintings of religious subjects. His works were characterized by his mastery of chiaroscuro – the theatrical use of light and shadow. He used luxuriant brushwork and rich colors, generous flesh tones, and a lively presentation of subjects that lacked the formality favored by his contemporaries.

Of all the Baroque masters, it was Rembrandt who evolved the most revolutionary technique. By the mid 1630s he had abandoned the conventional Dutch smoothness and his surfaces were thick with paint. From the Venetians he learned to use a brown ground but despite a palette that was limited even by 17th century standards, he was renowned as a colorist, combining tones of light and shade with vibrant colors.

In 1634 Rembrandt married Saskia van Uylenburg, the beautiful cousin of a successful art dealer and the model for many of his paintings. He was, by then, a wealthy, respected citizen, and in 1639 he purchased a large house (now the Rembrandt House Museum) in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. This was the period in which he painted masterpieces such as ‘The Blinding of Samson’, and his most celebrated painting ‘The Night Watch’, a group portrait of one of the city’s militia companies. His studio was filled with pupils.

Rembrandt’s family life however was not so successful. Saskia died in 1642, a year after the birth of their son, Titus. His affections then turned to his housekeeper, Hendrickje Stoffels, who modeled for him and bore him a daughter. And despite his financial success, Rembrandt lived expensively, and was declared bankrupt in 1656. He was forced to sell most of his paintings as well as his house and printing press. Eventually, he opened an art shop with Hendrickje and Titus.

Rembrandt’s new poverty had little effect on the quality of his work however, even if they did become more somber. Some of the great paintings from this period are ‘The Jewish Bride’, ‘Bathsheba’, and ‘Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph’.

Rembrandt outlived both Hendrickje and his son, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the vicinity of Amsterdam, in 1669.

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The Op-Art of Josef Albers

Josef Albers, photograph by Arnold Newman, 1948. © Arnold Newman

In a recent post, a popular art form of the 20th century was introduced. Op-Art puts thought provoking optical illusions onto a flat canvas. During the early 1900’s, the art form flourished with the creative use of lines and patterns. At the start, artists used black and white paint or ink to create captivating images; color was incorporated later. One artist and theorist at the forefront of this art style, who also pioneered the technique of adding color, was a man by the name Josef Albers.

German-born American artist, Josef Albers studied at the Bauhaus school for arts and crafts in Germany. The school existed at the time of Nazi dominance in Germany and, subsequently, closed in 1933. After spending decade at Bauhaus as an art instructor, Alber’s emigrated to the United States, where he continued his career as an artist and teacher.

After spending some time in the United States, Albers accepted a position at teaching at Yale University. It was there that Josef Albers was able to advance the graphic art program before retiring from teaching in 1958.

In the early years of his retirement, as a fellow at Yale, Albers received funding to exhibit and lecture on the art form he had done so much to advance. By this time, Albers had catapulted many artists into successful careers. The list of notable students includes Richard Anuszkiewicz and Eva Hesse. Both artists are considered major forces in the Op-Art movement that swept the world during the 1960’s and 70’s.

Aside from his artwork and teaching, Josef Albers added another form of art to his long list of talents: In 1963, his book, Interaction of Color detailed the theory behind colorful op-art. This writing built upon a foundational thought of Albers — that colors have an internal and deceptive logic all-their-own.

Albers continued to paint and write until he died in 1976. However, the impression he left on the world of art, especially as an abstract painter and theorist, continues to live and influence abstract art today. Even though much of his work is well known and recognizable, it continues to thrive because of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. To this day, the organization supports exhibitions featuring the work of Josef Albers and his wife Anni, who was a textile artist.

The contribution Josef Albers made to the world of art is undeniable. He was successful at merging traditional European art with modern American art, to create an abstract style all his own. While his roots were grounded in the type of constructivist thinking that allowed Bauhaus school of arts and crafts to flourish, his experiences in America allowed him freedom to explore patterns and colors that are now the signature of optical art.

Op-art and graphic art continue to advance while consistently affirming Josef Albers influence. The world renowned teacher, artist, and color theorist is very much alive in the work of abstract artists today. Whether it is through his written words, paintings, or students who survived him, Albers will influence young artists for years to come.

No words can conclude a story about the life of this great man, except, perhaps his own. Alber’s was quoted as saying, “Abstraction is real, probably more real than nature. I prefer to see with closed eyes.” Others are happy to have their eyes opened by the influential life and art of Josef Albers. May his legacy and art been seen for years to come.

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