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Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition opens at the National Gallery of Canada
Explore Rembrandt’s extraordinary career in the context of the lively art market of Amsterdam, bringing his paintings, drawings and prints into dialogue with stellar works by 20 other artists who were his friends, followers and rivals
Admire works never shown in Canada before, including The Blinding of Samson, from the Städel Museum, Frankfurt
A world-premiere exhibition that frames Rembrandt through a multitude of voices and non-Western perspectives
Includes a selection of works by prominent contemporary and Indigenous artists whose works enter into dialogue with the global histories of colonialism and trade that informed Rembrandt’s time
One of the most celebrated artists of the European tradition, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) was multi-talented: a painter, draughtsman, and printmaker. Known for emotional authenticity and lifelike character expressed in all his work, Rembrandt created art that is broadly relatable and engaging. The National Gallery of Canada (NGC) presents, from July 16 to September 6, 2021, the exhibition Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition, which traces Rembrandt’s development during the transformative central decades of his career, beginning with his move in 1632 from Leiden to Amsterdam.
The exhibition, organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, presents more than 120 works, drawn from more than 30 prestigious collections and museums from across North America and Europe, including the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (Spain), the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (USA), the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (The Netherlands), The National Gallery, London (UK), and the National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh (Scotland). It brings Rembrandt’s paintings, drawings and prints into dialogue with stellar works by 20 other artists who were his friends, followers and rivals in Amsterdam, including Nicolaes Maes, Govert Flinck, Bartholomeus van der Helst, Jan Lievens, and Nicolaes Eliasz. Pickenoy.
“We are very pleased to present this remarkable exhibition to the Canadian public,’’ said Dr. Sasha Suda, National Gallery of Canada Director and CEO. “Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition is an opportunity to introduce Canadians to a world-renowned artist and his milieu: art in the Dutch Republic. While building on the NGC's distinguished record of exhibiting historical European art, this exhibition and its related programming recognize that museums today, perhaps especially in North America, must acknowledge the broader context of colonialism. Doing so promotes inclusivity and enriches our visitors’ experience.’’
“Rembrandt treated a remarkable range of subject types in an era when many Dutch artists chose to specialize”, said Stephanie S. Dickey, Ph.D., Guest Curator for the NGC, Bader Chair in Northern Baroque Art at Queen’s University and an internationally recognized authority on Rembrandt and Dutch 17th-century art, who brought the project to the NGC. “Rembrandt was a prolific teacher and mentor who developed a brand that went far beyond his own work," said Dr. Dickey. "His life story is fascinating as well, marked by triumphs and tragedies. Amsterdam was an inspirational and dynamic milieu in which dozens of talented artists were competing for attention from urban consumers. The exhibition sheds new light on the art of Rembrandt and his circle as a product of this unique creative environment.’’
The exhibition presents a rich variety of paintings, drawings and prints that treat subjects ranging from myth and history to landscapes, portraits and scenes of everyday life. Included are internationally renowned masterpieces never before shown in Canada.
The first exhibition space offers visitors an introduction to Dutch culture and commerce in Rembrandt's time, then leads to sections devoted to depictions of everyday life, portraiture, historical subjects, and landscapes, with a special section on Rembrandt as a printmaker. A final section, entitled Beyond Beauty, brings the Gallery's Old Testament Heroine together with some of Rembrandt's most intriguing images of female characters from history and myth.
Among key works by Rembrandt presented in the exhibition are The Blinding of Samson (1636, Städel Museum, Frankfurt), Landscape with Stone Bridge (c. 1638, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Judith at the Banquet of Holofernes (1634, Madrid, Prado), and Portrait of Andries de Graeff (1639, Gemäldegalerie, Kassel). The exhibition brings new attention to the NGC's Old Testament Heroine, painted by Rembrandt in 1632/33, and the Gallery's outstanding collection of etchings by Rembrandt.
Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition will be presented at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in the fall of 2021.
An innovative curatorial approach for the presentation in Ottawa
In concert with the National Gallery of Canada’s renewed commitment to diversity and Indigenous communities, cultures, and history, Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition provides an opportunity to advance understanding of the European tradition with a new, more inclusive approach.
The exhibition had been in the making for more than four years when National Gallery of Canada Chief Curator and Deputy Director Kitty Scott and Director of Exhibitions and Outreach Isabelle Corriveau brought the Gallery’s teams of Indigenous art, Contemporary art, and Education & Public Programs together to work with Dr. Dickey and think about how to connect Rembrandt’s era with today's concerns. This approach led to including works from the national collection by contemporary Indigenous and Black artists, as well as inviting three guest authors—Joana Joachim, Ph.D., Black feminist art historian; Gerald McMaster, Ph.D., Director of the Wapatah Centre for Indigenous Visual Knowledge, OCAD University, Toronto; and Rick Hill, artist, writer and curator of the Tuscarora Nation—to contribute wall texts with their perspectives on the Dutch Republic's colonial project and its effects on Black and Indigenous people then and now.
The 1600s were a time of religious and political upheaval, migration, war, plagues, and racial tensions. Global trade and colonialism by Dutch and other Europeans brought wealth and foreign goods to European markets, but also much suffering to Black and Indigenous peoples in Africa, Asia, and the Americas who were exploited, enslaved, or stricken by disease.
The first Dutch settlers arrived in North America when Rembrandt was a child. In 1613, a treaty of peaceful cooperation between the Haudenosaunee (Confederacy of Iroquoian Nations) people and the Dutch was commemorated in the Two-Row Wampum. Made of white and purple cylindrical shell beads, this historical artefact has come to symbolize an agreement of peaceful coexistence between Indigenous and settler societies.
As they approach the exhibition space, visitors will walk through Longhouse of the Future, 2019, a glowing aluminum longhouse structure embraced by a five-row wampum belt wall design by artist Skawennati (Kanien’keha:ka and Italian-Canadian, lives and works in Tiohtia: ke [Montreal]), upon entry they will see a replica Two-Row Wampum Belt, 1992, by Cayuga Chief Jacob Ezra Thomas (1922–1998) loaned by the Woodland Cultural Centre of Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario.
“Visitors will be fascinated to know that there is a 400-plus-year-old treaty that was exchanged between the Kanyen’kehaka (Mohawk) and the Dutch here on Turtle Island (North America), as the Dutch colonial project and slave trade was impacting many parts of the globe’’ said NGC Audain Senior Curator of Indigenous Art, Greg A. Hill, Kanyen’kehaka and settler French. ‘’The inclusion of the two-row wampum belt embeds the exhibition into a North American context. We build on that context by adding in selected works from the national collection by Indigenous artists. That really brings home the idea of how a historical document—the wampum belt—and the principles that it contains are still relevant today. The Two-Row Wampum continues to be upheld by the Haudenosaunee and appears in the works of contemporary Indigenous artists. Bringing these together with interpretation by our guest author Rick Hill, a specialist on wampum belts, really brings this ongoing connection to life.’’
The painting The Triumph of Mischief, 2007, by Kent Monkman (Swampy Cree, lives and works in Toronto), two beaded works by Ruth Cuthand (Cree, lives and works in Saskatoon), Smallpox, 2011, and Pneumonia, 2013, dark string, 2010, a live video installation by Greg Staats (Skarù:ręˀ / Kanien’kehá:ka, lives and works in Toronto), and a drawing titled From 1848 to the Present / Cross-section of a Slave Ship, 2006–2018, by Canadian Congolese artist Moridja Kitenge Banza (lives and works in Montreal), are among the works by contemporary Indigenous and Black artists integrated throughout the exhibition.
‘’Banza’s work could not be better suited to our goal of offering new and diverse perspectives on the European tradition. Trained at the Academy of Fine arts, Kinshasa, where Western models – including close study of Rembrandt – prevailed, Banza explores the political, social, and cultural realities of all the places in which he has lived: from Africa and Europe to North America by way of Canada. His motif of the teaspoon evokes goods and resources extracted from the Global South for trade in Western markets since Rembrandt’s time. Entangled in these histories is the transatlantic slave trade already underway between Europe and its colonies at the moment of encounter between the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee on this side of the Atlantic”, said NGC Director of Curatorial Initiatives, Jonathan Shaughnessy.
The National Gallery of Canada thanks its sponsors
Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition was organized by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and the Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main. The National Gallery of Canada would like to thank Bader Philanthropies Inc. for their generous support of the ground-breaking exhibition Rembrandt in Amsterdam, as well as PACART and Touchstone Exploration, Inc. for their sponsorship. The exhibition was supported by the Government of Canada and is honoured by the patronage of His Majesty the King of the Netherlands and the Office of the Governor General of Canada. Proud partners include the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Canada and the Canadian Tulip Festival.
Five years in the making, Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition was conceived by Stephanie S. Dickey, Ph.D., National Gallery of Canada guest curator, Professor of Art History and Bader Chair in Northern Baroque Art at Queen’s University, Kingston, and an internationally recognized authority on Rembrandt and 17th-century Dutch art, and Jochen Sander, Ph.D., Vice Director of the Städel Museum and Professor of Art History at Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main. NGC Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, Sonia Del Re, Ph.D., NGC Interim Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, Erika Dolphin, Ph.D., and Assistant Curator, Prints and Drawings, Kirsten Appleyard have collaborated on the presentation in Ottawa.
The Indigenous art and the Contemporary art installations within Rembrandt in Amsterdam are curated by Greg A. Hill, Audain Senior Curator of Indigenous Art, and Jonathan Shaughnessy, Director of Curatorial Initiatives, both from the National Gallery of Canada.
Rembrandt in Amsterdam is accompanied by a richly illustrated scholarly catalogue edited by Stephanie Dickey and Jochen Sander, published by the National Gallery of Canada and distributed by Yale University Press. The catalogue features essays on Rembrandt and the Amsterdam art market written by the exhibition's curators and other international experts on Dutch 17th-century art. On sale at CA $35 plus taxes at the NGC Boutique on online at shopNGC.ca
The National Gallery of Canada collaborated with the Städel Museum on the creation of the Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition Digitorial®, where art lovers can virtually delve into the world of Rembrandt and discover what life was like for an artist in the Netherlands during the 1600s. Available online.
Rembrandt Lectures Series
This lecture series aims to broaden the conversation around the exhibition Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition. Lectures by the exhibition curators and scholars include Rembrandt in Ottawa: New Context and Perspectives; Wâpahtowin. An indigenous view of the other, and more. Online.
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