The North Carolina Museum of Art is attempting its own masterpiece: an exhibit that features more authentic Rembrandt paintings than any American museum has yet achieved.
The museum is borrowing and leasing masterpieces by the 17th century Dutch painter from about two dozen museums in the United States, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The total insured value of the three-month exhibit is undisclosed, but officials say it will exceed anything the museum has put together before, including blockbuster exhibitions of Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Rodin.
Larry Wheeler, director of the N.C. art museum, said the Rembrandt exhibit, which is planned to open in October 2011, will display some of the Dutchman's best work. Wheeler characterized some of the 31/2-century-old canvasses as priceless. Rembrandt - a celebrity in his own day who boosted his income by selling dozens of self-portraits to adoring fans - ranks among the top European artists of any age.
The exhibit will highlight the authentic Rembrandts that came to this country during the late 19th century's Gilded Age, a time when American tycoons cultivated a passion for collecting Baroque art.
"They were just mad about collecting paintings, particularly Rembrandts," said Dennis Weller, the N.C. Museum of Art's curator of Northern European art who has been organizing the Rembrandt extravaganza for the past two years. "There was almost a cult of Rembrandt in the 19th century when people started collecting."
No Rembrandt originals are currently on display in North Carolina. At least five that were once thought to come from the master's hand have since been ascribed to other painters. The closest Rembrandts on public view are in Washington, Weller said.
The N.C. Museum of Art exhibit will also feature 15 to 20 works once thought to come from the master's brush that have been reevaluated as the works of his pupils or imitators.
If you go
The exhibit, "Rembrandt Paintings in America: Collecting and Connoisseurship," is scheduled for Raleigh from Oct.30, 2011, to Jan. 22, 2012. It will then move to Cleveland and Minneapolis.
Rembrandt is expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors, but because the Old Masters aren't as popular as modern artists, the exhibit is not expected to match the turnout for the Monet show in 2006-07 (more than 200,000 visitors).
Tickets will likely be $15, but the price hasn't been set. The museum has lined up about 30 Rembrandt originals and is still negotiating terms on several paintings.
Weller said past exhibits have had more but many turned out to be fakes.
Arguably the most famous Rembrandt painting in this country - "Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer" - will not be part of the NCMA show. The Met wouldn't part with it, Weller said.
But the Raleigh show will include one of his "Lucretia" paintings, showing the rape victim in the act of committing suicide.
Rembrandt's reputation rests in large part on his uncanny ability to depict light and shadow. In addition to his portraits, he's known for historical scenes, including Biblical scenes. He is ranked by many alongside Shakespeare, Beethoven and Michelangelo for creative genius.
A genius for character
Weller said the Raleigh exhibition will feature a number of portraits and character studies. "For the most part, very well-dressed Dutch burghers," Weller said.
It will include at least three self-portraits, including the 1659 version now hanging in the National Gallery of Art and valued for its pristine condition. "If you talk about the eyes being the window to the soul, it's like you're looking right into the soul of the artist," Weller said.
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