This exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on Rembrandt’s extraordinarily sensitive and perceptive depictions of women. Whilst Rembrandt continues to be one of the most admired of the great masters, his portrayal of women shocked many of his contemporaries. He was frequently censured for producing realistic portrayals of women rather than classical images of femininity.
Illustrated with some of his finest works, Rembrandt’s Women will reveal the artist’s unequalled ability to combine the classical and the northern traditions, the personal and the universal, in his portrayal of womankind.
The genesis for this exhibition was curiosity over the identity of A Woman in Bed, now owned by the National Gallery of Scotland. In 1892 Wilhelm von Bode, one of the leading Rembrandt scholars of that time, wrote: ‘At a glance one can see that this is not the mere head of a model, as she lies in bed, raising herself to put aside the curtain as if she heard a well-known footstep. It is clearly a woman in whom Rembrandt had a personal interest.’ In fact, due to confusion about its date, A Woman in Bed is the only painting which has been associated with all of the three women with whom Rembrandt was romantically involved. However Bode was not the first to assume that the perceived emotional link between artist and female sitter must indicate a psychological or physical relationship between the two.
The fusion of private life and artistic subject matter in Rembrandt’s work has always held a fascination, one that continues to this day. The purpose of Rembrandt’s Women is to explore this dimension of Rembrandt’s art and to suggest that very few of the paintings can be considered accurate portraits. Rather, it seems that Rembrandt varied the features of those he held dear to suit his artistic purpose. The setting, costumes, lighting and ‘psychological narrative’ in his sitters’ faces are, more often than not, filtered through, and transfigured by, his extraordinary imagination.
Julia Lloyd Williams, with a contribution by S.A.C. Dudok van Heel
Catalogue of an exhibition held in 2001 in Edinburgh (National Gallery of Scotland) and London (Royal Academy of Arts)
ISBN 1-903278-21-x (hardbound)
ISBN 1-903278-18-x (paperbound)