National Trust’s International Exhibition at Petworth

The National Trust’s landmark exhibition Prized Possessions has just returned from The Mauritshuis museum in the Hague to Petworth House in Sussex.

The Mauritshuis houses the Royal Cabinet of Paintings which includes many of the finest Dutch Golden Age paintings including Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Nevertheless long queues formed to see Prized Possessions which speaks of the importance of the works on show in this exhibition.

Prized Possessions builds on the tradition established at Petworth House by house and collections manager Andrew Loukes of re-examining the collections and art of the National Trust. In the 17th and 18th centuries Dutch art informed English taste. It is wonderful to see these works displayed in the context of, arguably, England’s finest country house. Petworth has a fine collection of Dutch masters.

The exhibition reflects the diversity of subjects and styles in Dutch Golden Age art with wonderful religious scenes, landscapes still lifes and portraits. Prized Possessions has been curated by David Taylor and Rupert Goulding. The paintings on show are amongst the most celebrated and prized in the National Trust’s collections. The visitor to Petworth will uniquely also be able to see a selection of Dutch masters generously loaned by Lord Egremont from his private collection.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Self-Portrait, wearing a Feathered Bonnet, c.1635, oil, signed and dated © National Trust

As you enter the exhibition gallery you are met by Rembrandt van Rijn’s remarkable ‘Self-Portrait, wearing a Feathered Bonnet.’ There is such life to the portrait. It displays the psychological insight and unsurpassed technique which underpins Rembrandt’s reputation as an artist. Here we see Rembrandt’s confidence at the height of his wealth and fame.

The portrait is typical of the popular tronie genre where the sitter is depicted in costume playing some sort of role. Rembrandt’s costume with its velvet bonnet decorated with ostrich feathers, the gorget armour and aristocratic hair lends the painting a timeless quality. His pose and the dramatic use of light seems to unite sitter and viewer.

The portrait is signed and dated 1635, the year that the artist and his wife Saskia moved to the fashionable Nieuwe Doelenstraat in Amsterdam.

Until recently the portrait was attributed to one of Rembrandt’s pupils, Govaert Flinck. However, recent scientific and historical research has established the painting as one of a large group of some forty autograph self-portraits by Rembrandt.

Simon Pietersz Verelst (1644-1721), Prince Rupert of the Rhine c.1680-82, oil © National Trust.

The portrait of Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682) by Simon Pietersz Verelst is of contrasting style. The painting forms part of Petworth’s permanent collection and depicts Prince Rupert in middle age after the restoration of his cousin Charles II. He wears the robes of the Order of the Garter. Verelst employs light and colour beautifully to emphasise the opulence and power expressed in his attire.

The exhibition is a cabinet of exquisite paintings and the context of Petworth House and its exhibition rooms allows us to re-examine these prized possessions and their influence on English Country House taste with fresh eyes.

I am delighted that Toovey’s are once again supporting Petworth House’s exhibition program.

Prized Possessions is a jewel like exhibition and a must see. The show is sure to be a sell out so book early. For more information on the exhibition, to book tickets and for opening times visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Genius of Rembrandt Captured in Print

Rembrandt van Rijn – Christ at Emmaus: The Larger Plate, etching with drypoint on laid paper, circa 1654, posthumous fourth state

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the death of the Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669).

An artist of towering reputation, by the 1630s Rembrandt had become a highly respected artist. His fame and reputation as a painter ensured that his prints were seen as originals and not mere reproductions. In the 1630s and 1640s Rembrandt’s Amsterdam studio was very important attracting the attention and influencing a generation of artists.

Rembrandt achieved fame and success as a young man but would narrowly avoid bankruptcy in 1656 by an arrangement with the court to sell his house and its contents. The inventory of the sale still survives and provides an important insight into his collection and its influences on his work. It records that he owned Italian pictures, engravings after Raphael and other Italian masters, and a book said to have been illustrated by Mantegna.

Take for example Rembrandt van Rijn’s wonderful study of the story of the Supper at Emmaus from St Luke’s Gospel illustrated here. He exploits the creative process of printing to great effect. Drawing on the influence of the Italian artist Caravaggio Rembrandt employs the effects of chiaroscuro – strongly contrasted light and shadow affecting not only the composition but also the sense of volume.

It is a good inky impression. This is the fourth posthumous state indicating that it was pulled from the plate which Rembrandt himself had engraved in 1654 either at the end of his life or within a few years of his death. The composition and use of light is remarkable focusing our attention on the risen Jesus Christ as he reveals who he is to the two disciples who have unknowingly accompanied him on the road to Emmaus. As he breaks bread the story is united with the Last Supper and his Passion. Jesus’ expression as he looks on his follower is filled with empathy and tenderness. And in the shadows there is that marvellous dog.

Contemporary collectors of his prints afforded Rembrandt a freedom of expression which was sometimes lacking amongst the patrons of his paintings.

Etching allowed him to explore his deepening feelings for humanity which is ariculated with a freedom, insight and intimacy beyond the formal conventional portraiture of his time.

Rembrandt van Rijn – Studies of the Head of Saskia and others, etching on laid paper, circa 1636, with part of a Strasbourg Lily watermark

A good example of this is the etching, Studies of the Head of Saskia and others, from 1636. The love and tenderness with which he depicts her is readily apparent. Saskia, nee van Ulyenburgh, was the love of his life. Rembrandt’s art dealer, Hendrick van Uylenburgh, was Saskia’s cousin. Rembrandt was living and working with Hendrick and the couple met there in 1633 and were married soon after in 1634. Saskia died giving birth to their son, Titus, in 1642. Rembrandt was devastated.

Today Rembrandt’s works printed during his lifetime fetch thousands of pounds at auction. In contrast, despite his brilliance, Rembrandt died a pauper and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Toovey’s Director and specialist, Nicholas Toovey, is preparing his next curated auction of prints which will be held on 20th February 2019. He is always delighted to share his passion for prints with others and offer advice. He can be contacted on 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.