Rembrandt van Rijn is considered one of the greatest masters in European art history, a genius who's works have sold for a staggering $33.2 million at Christie's (the lucky owner remains anonymous). Ironically, as is the case of many a great artist, the man himself died bankrupt, leaving behind a few painting utensils and ragged clothing. You could say his life was as chaotic as his work is truthful, and both extremes are evident in his self-portraits.
Rembrandt opted for a 'warts and all' realism, and he certainly never tried to conceal his own flaws. It is precisely because of this honesty, that even we who live in a society dominated by the lust for physical perfection find ourselves forgetting about beauty - albeit briefly.
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Rembrandt's Portrait of the Artist, 1665 is on a four-stop tour of America - along with 48 other masterpieces in the exhibit Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London - currently on show in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
This collection was a bequest made to Kenwood House by a playboy made good - Lord Iveagh, the heir to the Guinness fortune (Iveagh ran with the likes of the Rothschild's). Yet, contrary to Iveagh's high-octane life style, his collection reveals a penchant for lyrical landscape, portraiture and seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch works.
This is the first time many of the Iveagh works have left Europe, including Rembrandt's Portrait of the Artist, 1665. Here we see the poverty-ridden, old master in steely defiance of age, and it is truly a sight to behold. Hanging next to the MFA's own Rembrandt, Self-Portrait 1660, it provides the rare opportunity to witness his varying styles side by side - size, composition and expression are all different. Who knows what Rembrandt was communicating to his peers? In his time, self-portraits functioned as messages of status, wealth, education and professional advertisement. Our modern eyes see something else, the emotional and physical journey of a man, captured with brutal honesty.
For more information visit the MFA - http://www.mfah.org/exhibitions/rembrandt-van-dyck-gainsborough-treasures-kenwood-/.