Master of branding

CorrespondentOctober 30, 2011 

Rembrandt's influence isn't relegated solely to the hush of museums around the world. His name and legacy have been co-opted more than a few times, in some instances to paint a picture - pun intended - of quality, luxury and mastery.

The Rembrandts

Who could forget the catchy if overplayed theme song for the hit 1990s sitcom "Friends"? Danny Wilde and Phil Solem formed the Rembrandts in 1990 after working together as Great Buildings in the '80s. One great artist may have provided the inspiration needed for commercial success: The Rembrandts enjoyed a modest hit with "Just the Way It Is, Baby" before shooting to the top of the charts with "I'll Be There For You," the tune that became synonymous with Ross, Rachel and the whole gang of 20-something New Yorkers. The Rembrandts broke up in 1997, while "Friends" was still going strong, but they reunited in 2001. Since the success of "Friends," the song has appeared on more than one "worst of" lists. Ouch.

Toothpaste

The brand that has been synonymous with a whiter smile for more than 20 years, Rembrandt gradually expanded to include mouthwash, whitening strips and a formula for people with canker sores. Magazines celebrate the brand's sleek packaging design, and celebs include Rembrandt in their lists of must-have beauty products. In 1992, a young Angelina Jolie flashed her soon-to-be-famous choppers in a TV commercial hawking the brand's whitening technology. Now that's high art.

Dutch Masters cigars

Your Uncle Jimmy may have sworn by his Cubans, but Dutch Masters, one of the most popular brands of cigars, is American through and through. Purveyor of machine-rolled cigars in the U.S. since 1911, Dutch Masters is distinctive because of the reproduction of the Rembrandt piece "The Syndics of the Clothmakers' Guild (The Staalmeesters)" that appears on its packaging. In the past generation or so, "Dutches" or "Dutchies" have earned a less lofty reputation as an accompaniment to a less legal leaf.

In the movies

The talented Dutchman has been immortalized in two big-screen biopics: in 1936 by Charles Laughton and in 1999 by Klaus Maria Brandauer. Rembrandt's tragedies no doubt paint a vivid if somber cinematic portrait. Other titles devoted to some degree to depicting Rembrandt's life and work include 2007's "Nightwatching" (characterized as "steamy" and "cerebral" by Netflix), and 1997's "Incognito," in which Jason Patric paints pricey Rembrandt forgeries.

On vacation

Whether you're hitting the road or boarding a plane, it's possible you'll run into Rembrandt in your travels. Restaurants both elegant and informal have adopted the name - as well as a bit of old-world flair - in Philadelphia, California, Aruba, England and even points east. And for travelers longing to count sheep with a Dutch accent, Rembrandt hotels dot the globe, as well, from the Netherlands to Bangkok.

'To be Rembrandted'

Comparisons to Rembrandt aren't always favorable, according to Stephanie Dickey, author of "Rembrandt at 400." The phrase "to be Rembrandted" is equated to being framed for a crime; in filmmaking, it connotes overdone effects. This phenomenon of Rembrandt as a label for things that have little to do with art - or a label used in an unflattering light - suggests that Rembrandt is a major part of the contemporary cultural consciousness, whether or not people know the Dutchman's work. "He's become a synonym for greatness," Dickey told Smithsonian.com in 2006.

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