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Rembrandt And His Time: Masterworks from the Albertina by Marian Bisanz-Prakken, Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn (Hudson Hills Press) present some of the greatest drawings and paintings ever produced by Netherlandish artists in the exhibition Rembrandt and His Time: Masterworks from the Albertina, Vienna. Including 115 drawings and prints from the Albertina and 15 related paintings, the exhibition explores the pivotal and influential role of Rembrandt as a draftsman in mid-seventeenth-century Holland. Visitors have the unprecedented opportunity to see 26 of Rembrandt's drawings and prints—the largest number of Rembrandt works ever lent by the Albertina. The exhibition is organized in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt's birth in 2006; Milwaukee is the only venue. In a world already crowded with Rembrandt books, this one more than justifies its existence with an imaginative focus on the artist's drawings and prints in the context of other Dutch draftsmen and printmakers. Published in conjunction with a 2006 exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum to mark the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt's birth, the book offers a side-by-side comparison of Rembrandt with his contemporaries that allows his distinctive style to be seen more clearly than ever. The way Rembrandt represented space receding into the background, for instance, with a radically economic use of line that appears improvised on the spot, is unmatched by any other artist on display here. Not that the others are exactly slouches. Aelbert Cuyp, 14 years Rembrandt's junior, displays deep reservoirs of sensitivity and humor in drawings like Reclining Dog, which masterfully captures the animal's finely muscled back and quizzical expression. Bristling with footnotes and filled with art jargon (repoussoir, anyone?), the text by Albertina curator Bisanz-Prakken is engaging, if only because her commentary is pegged to specific images, usually displayed on facing pages. This is an accessible if scholarly look at 17th-century Dutch art and a great introduction to Rembrandt the genius draftsman.

Rembrandt is universally accepted as one of the greatest artists of all time, and the works on view demonstrate his exceptional facility as a draftsman with different media. The show includes iconic images such as Child in a Small Chair with Nanny, Three Studies of an Elephant, and Young Woman at Her Toilet. Dutch landscape is also represented with such important works as Cottages under a Stormy Sky from the mid-1630s, and View of the Pesthuis from the Ramparts from the late 1640s.

Rembrandt's Landscape with the Good Samaritan—one of only eight landscapes painted by the artist—has never before traveled to North America. Lent by the Czartoryski Museum in Poland, this painting belongs to the pivotal midpoint of the artist's career and provides an excellent point of comparison for the landscape drawings. Other paintings include works by Roelant Savery, Philips Koninck and Willem van de Velde the Younger.

Equally significant are a number of early drawings by Roelant Savery, David Vinckboons, Jacques de Gheyn II, Hendrick Avercamp, Jan van Goyen and Esaias van de Velde that provide the earliest examples of an emerging naturalism. There are also works by Rembrandt's contemporaries, followers and by later artists whose innovative approach to recording the Dutch world takes the work of Rembrandt a step further. These artists include Jan Lievens, Lambert Doomer, Philips Koninck, Nicolaes Maes, Salomon de Bray, Govaert Flinck and Adriaen van Ostade. Marine themes and Italianate landscapes are also explored as a means of fully explaining Rembrandt's broad influence.


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