Made it up to the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University for their wonderful exhibition “Rembrandt’s Changing Impressions”. The show, assembled from 14 collections, highlights 18 of his prints and several of their altered versions, most of which date from the 1650’s. All were done during Rembrandt’s lifetime, and those not by him were probably done under his direction.
The first room contains portraits of several of Amsterdam’s prominent citizens who probably commissioned these prints: Lieven Willmesz van Coppenol, Writing-Master; Jan Asselijn, Painter, Jan Uytenbogaert, Gold Weigher (and prominent tax collector)… There are multiple states of each portrait, in which Rembrandt changed an element such as a background, or the drape of a garment. In his portrait of the goldsmith Jan Lutma, the background in the first state is bare, while in the second one, there’s a window in a niche. This portrait is also a fine example of how Rembrandt created textures – take a closer look at the sitter’s hat, beard, and wrinkles.
I wasn’t familiar with term “state,” but the gallery staff explained that the images were made by the artist directly on copper plates, which were then inked, and the image transferred to paper. A different version of the same print is called a “state” because changes were made directly on the same copper plate, thus limiting the supply of each “state”. The exhibit also has a small display case of etching tools and clear explanations of the different processes, such as drypoint, engraving and etching.
No one is quite sure why different states of the same print were made – in some cases, it may have been to freshen up the plate; in others, it may have been because the artist wanted to change something; another possibility is that collectors would want to own at least one of each state, so having several states would make the print more valuable. This latter theory is posited for the etching of a woman sitting half-dressed beside a stove, which has 7 different states (not all in the show): in one state, she’s wearing a cap; in another, the cap is gone and you see her hair pulled up; other states have changes to the stove…
Another room is full of Biblical scenes, and show how Rembrandt took advantage of the characteristics of different paper types to affect the appearance of a print: European paper gave a deep richness, while the thinness of Chinese paper permitted details to stand out, and the ivory color of Japanese paper afforded a softer look, as you can see in the “Adoration of the Shepherds” of 1657. While most of the prints in this exhibit are small – around 5” x 7” or 8”x10” this room contains two dry points that are considerably larger – about 12” x 15” which is an unusual size for prints made using this technique.
This exhibit is really quite lovely; not only did I enjoy it, but I also learned a lot about printmaking and about Rembrandt! There will be a symposium the afternoon of November 5th, followed by a reception, all free of charge.
Make the time to get up and see it before it closes on December 12th.