Rembrandt: The Late Works (National Gallery)

rembrandt_ticket[1]Many an exhibition will market itself as “once in a lifetime”. The National Gallery’s Rembrandt blockbuster is no different, clearly marking out the rare accumulation of a vast amount of canonical works in one place. Exhibitions of this size take years to plan, fund and curate. Speaking to employees of the Gallery, it becomes clear that this was by no means an easy feat. The question on everyone’s lips: will it pay off?

It seems so. Aside from the excellent reviews the exhibition has received in the press, personal experiences have been equally positive. My fellow students are eager to part with their fiercely guarded student loans just to catch a glimpse of seminal works such as “The Syndics” or “The Jewish Bride”.

Focusing on his later years as an artist, the exhibition reflects a period of personal unrest. Rembrandt was beset with money worries, and as a citizen he had been hounded by the church for his common law marriage. Facing bankruptcy in 1656, he was forced to sell his spacious house and studio for more modest accommodation. One can only imagine the loss of pride for a man so concerned with self-representation in his paintings.

Yet despite this, Rembrandt was not ready to give up hope. The vast collection of work grouped together in the Sainsbury Wing assures us that Rembrandt’s creative energies could not be dulled by external factors. Organised thematically, the exhibition allows us to explore Rembrandt’s concerns during the last years of his career, spanning ideas like the representation of everyday life to more internal concerns such as intimacy and conflict.

Young Woman Sleeping  © Trustees of the British Museum

Young Woman Sleeping
© Trustees of the British Museum

In fact, it soon becomes clear that Rembrandt’s tender nature has not been blunted by hardship. His pen and ink drawing of A Young Woman Sleeping (c.1654), has been attributed as an affectionate rendering of his partner Hendrickje Stoffels. Stoffels, branded a whore by the Church due to her communion with Rembrandt, is here depicted softly in a position of complete innocence. This private insight into Rembrandt’s personal life suggests his ability to appreciate simple pleasures despite economic complications.

Self-Portrait with Circles. Kenwood House.

Self-Portrait with Circles. (Kenwood House)

Rembrandt’s union with Stoffels has marked him in historical discourse as a man who didn’t always conform. He offers us further hint of this inner rebellion through his many self-portraits of the later period. In “Self Portrait with Two Circles” (c.1665-9), he asserts himself as a wizened elderly man, with a frontal gaze and a hand on his hip. Painted ten years after he declared bankruptcy, Rembrandt is declaring his continued status as an artist. Our eye is drawn to his painting materials, which, undemarcated from his body, are offered as part of his very being. Two circles frame his proud expression, once again reminding the contemporary viewer that money would not stop him from devoting his life to art.

And it is this devotion, arguably, that comes through strongest in the exhibition – not only the dedication of Rembrandt to his art, but also of the gallery to its public.

Evy Cauldwell-French is a second-year BA at the Courtauld, specialising in 20th century interior design.

Rembrandt: The Late Works is at the National Gallery until January 18 2015.

Matisse: the cut-outs (Tate Modern)

After an eleven-year interlude, the works of Matisse return to Tate Modern. After the Matisse Picasso exhibition in 2002, the focus is now solely on Matisse and his now iconic, paper cut-outs, and related works of his late period. Not surprisingly for one of the most celebrated artists of modern times, the show was heavily marketed as a ‘blockbuster’  and predictably, the crowds are flocking to Bankside. And rightfully too, for the objects here engage on a profoundly material level.

The exhibition consists of fourteen rooms, beginning with a video of an elderly Matisse cutting curved shapes into a piece of blue-painted paper. This emphasis on the physicality of the works as well as the creative process is continued in the presentation of the works through each room, despite the additional roughly chronological lay-out of the exhibition itself. This proves highly effective; visitors are able to walk through each room and feel the development of the works by engaging visually with the exhibits.

Icarus 1946 Maquette for plate VIII of the illustrated book Jazz 1947 © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2013

Icarus 1946
Maquette for plate VIII of the illustrated book Jazz 1947
© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2013

The displays are also sensitive to the content and colour palette of each, although not always. For example, a cabinet shelf is used in the third room to display all of the bright pages of the printed JAZZ book (1947), with some of the key prints framed above in their original paper cut-out form. The following room is appropriately much smaller and emptier, displaying Matisse’s more spontaneous, less colourful ‘Oceania’ cut-outs as they would have been in his apartment where they had first been pinned. Less inspired is the display of works in the eighth room, where cut-outs like ‘Zulma’ and ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ are simply hung around the white room.

In my mind, the exhibition rightly supports an entirely visual experience. There are of course information labels with the title, date and extra information about each work, but the placement of these labels means the viewer does not see them and the works; instead the labels and titles, to this end often coloured a more subdued grey, are there as a reference should the viewer wish to engage with them. If not, all the main texts throughout the exhibition are usefully included in the free exhibition information booklet.

Henri Matisse, The Snail 1953 Gouache on paper, cut and pasted on paper mounted to canvas © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2013

Henri Matisse, The Snail 1953
Gouache on paper, cut and pasted on paper mounted to canvas
© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2013

Many key pieces are displayed, in particular the Blue Nude cut-outs (which are given their own room and comparing them to some of his earlier sculptures) and The Fall of Icarus, building up to his larger and more abstract cut-outs such as The Snail. But, what ultimately makes this exhibition well-worth visiting is the chance to see the smaller details often lost in reproductions of them: to see every little pin-hole, and every crease on the painted paper.

Tijana Todorinovic is a first-year BA student at the Courtauld.

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs is at Tate Modern until 7th September 2014.