If one thinks of Dutch painting in the Golden Age, names such as Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Johannes Vermeer immediately spring to mind. The exhibition The Bloemaert Effect adds a further name to this list, an influential painter who has left an impressive oeuvre: Abraham Bloemaert (1566-1651). The 50 paintings and 40 works on paper provided by museums, private collections and churches in Europe and America comprise the first large-scale retrospective of Bloemaert’s work. His oeuvre is remarkably diverse, not only with regards to style, but also subject matter and format. It includes large altarpieces, small mythological paintings, but also sketches of nature. Bloemaert developed from a Mannerist to a Classicist, but a few works showing Caravaggistic influences are also known by his hand. The Bloemaert Effect is on display in Centraal Museum from 11 November through to 5 February 2012, and will then travel on to Staatliches Museum Schwerin in Germany, collaborator of this exhibition and its catalogue.
Abraham Bloemaert was a significant figure in the Dutch history of art. This ‘Father of the Utrecht school’ trained numerous painters, such as the Caravaggisti Hendrick ter Brugghen and Gerard Honthorst, and the Italianists Jan Both, Cornelis van Poelenburgh and Jan Baptist Weenix. Besides the number of pupils, his countless paintings and drawings published in print have also contributed to Bloemaert’s wide spread influence on the art of painting and drawing. In the first decades of the seventeenth century, Utrecht served as an important cradle for the development of new styles and themes. The Utrecht masters influenced painters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals. Bloemaert’s painted oeuvre consists of more than 200 pieces, of which the largest collection of 14 key pieces is housed at Centraal Museum. The number of drawings is estimated at around 1700, and there are more than 600 engravings to his name.
Mannerist, Caravaggist and Classicist
Bloemaert has painted both mythological and religious works. He is also known for his genre pieces and realistic portraits of elderly people. Abraham Bloemaert’s paintings are highly diverse with respect to both subject and format, but also style. His early work shows him as a true Mannerist. Originated in Italy, the style of Mannerism became an international movement which can be characterized by its extremely idealized landscapes with characters depicted in exaggerated proportions. Many of Bloemaert’s pupils travelled to Italy, where they were drawn in by Caravaggio’s revolutionary artwork. In turn, the pupils influenced their own master with this new style. A small selection of Bloemaert’s work distinguishes itself by strong contrasts of light and dark, typical of Caravaggio. In the course of his career Bloemaert also showed himself to be a Classicist.
An inspired draftsman
When Peter Paul Rubens came to Utrecht in 1627, he also became acquainted with Abraham Bloemaert. Rubens was very impressed by this highly talented draftsman. Besides Bloemaert’s detailed drawings and designs intended as pieces in their own right, individual sketches on paper have also survived over time – of other masters of this period most of these have been lost. The pieces also include Bloemaert’s sketches of nature, and a number of drawings intended as detailed composite sketches for his paintings. The latter will be exhibited along side the actual paintings. Other drawings were published in print. Bloemaert worked with some of the best engravers of his time, such as Jacob de Gheyn and Jacob Matham.
The Studio: colour and composition
Public participation is an important pillar within the Centraal Museum policy. In the long-term policy this is evident from the idea for a Studio where visitors themselves can get creative. The Bloemaert Effect Studio focuses on colour and composition. Visitors get hands-on experience of the way Bloemaert’s pallet evolved throughout his career from pastels to brighter colours, as well as the way his overly crowded compositions with twisted, long bodies made room for clearly constructed compositions with large figures and one key moment. The changes in Bloemaert’s oeuvre are not the only points of interest. As colour and composition are timeless, parallels are also drawn to contemporary artists, such as Marlene Dumas, César Domela and Johannes Moesman.
As part of the exhibition there will be a comprehensive publication on Abraham Bloemaert, with colour illustrations of all pieces on display. Besides several dissertations and many scientific articles, this is the first book on this painter published for the general audience.