Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Rembrandt at the Getty

by Gregg Chadwick

The exhibition "Rembrandt's Late Religious Portraits" opens today at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

"Hendrickje Stoffels, Possibly as the Sorrowing Virgin"
30 7/8" x 27 1/8" oil on canvas 1660
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tyler Green's thoughts on the exhibit during its first stop in D.C. bring up an important question, "No one knows why, near the end of his life, Rembrandt painted so many religious figures who devoted their lives to spiritual goals and who were killed for it. Arthur Wheelock, the NGA curator who put together this show, brought these paintings together in an effort to spark some thought on the question."

Tyler Green's superb piece concludes with an echo of Lawrence Weschler's "Vermeer in Bosnia" by providing a wartime context to Rembrandt's portraits of martyrs:

"Just as now is a time of battle in the Middle East, so too was the Netherlands in Rembrandt's time. In the seventeenth century the Dutch fought wars with the Spanish and the British. The First Anglo-Dutch War ended in 1654 (and naval skirmishes continued for years), just a few years before Rembrandt began the paintings shown here.

As with Vermeer's paintings, you'd never know that Rembrandt lived surrounded by war. (The presence of several hushed Vermeers in a gallery adjacent to the Rembrandt show underscores this point.) Rembrandt's quiet portraits reject blood and violence in favor of humility and introspection. I can't help but think that's part of why they still look so great today."

Tyler's recognition of the humility and introspection in Rembrandt's late portraits is a point that bears repeating. I had a chance to speak with the painter Chester Arnold this weekend whose "To Never Forget: Faces of the Fallen" exhibition of memorial portraits of American troops killed in action in Iraq continues to travel across the country. Sadly, Arnold's exhibition continually needs updating as more troops fall in Iraq. But Chester Arnold and the group of artists that he has gathered continue to create poignant images with a humility and introspection that Rembrandt would understand.

"Rembrandt's Late Religious Portraits" runs until August 28th and is accompanied by a wide range of lectures and events.

To start things off at the Getty: Thursday June 9th at 7:00pm, Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr. - curator of northern baroque painting at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. and organizer of the exhibition, discusses Rembrandt's late work and will explore the spiritual nature of the assembled paintings.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Bashō's Haiku and the Evening Cool

by Gregg Chadwick

As the evenings grow longer in late Spring and voices from the clubs down the hill from my studio drift in on the breeze, I feel a human quickening that the 17th Century Japanese poet Bashō would have understood. Art's ability to speak across the centuries never fails to inspire me and provide hope for the future.

I am currently reading "Bashō's Haiku", translated by David Landis Barnhill. Barnhill's translations from the original Japanese are crisp. Each word is chosen carefully and the original verse order is maintained. These translations have an almost clipped brevity - like a Zen master's clap to focus his students. Barnhill's deft word choice allow Bashō's images to suggest layers of meaning without overlaying a modern American voice onto the poems.

Gregg Chadwick
"The Porcelain Sea"
48"x38" oil on linen 2005

Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) was born into the samurai class, but rejected that world after the death of his master and became a wandering poet and teacher. During his travels across Japan, he became a lay Zen monk and studied history and classical poetry. His own poems contain a mystical quality expressed through images from the natural world.

Barnhill explains that " in the early 1690's, Bashō began to emphasize lightheartedness and day-to-day subject matter, promoting a new aesthetic of "lightness" (karumi)."

One of Bashō's poems describes this lightness of being through a description of vibrant nights in Kyoto:

The evening cool at riverside, Fourth Avenue," they call it. From early Sixth Month with its evening moon to the moon at dawn just past mid-month, people lining up along the river in platforms drinking sake and feasting as they party all night long. Woman wrapped in showy sashes, men sporting fashionably long coats, with monks and old folks intermingling, even apprentices to coopers and blacksmiths, everyone carefree and leisurely, singing up a storm. Yes indeed, life in the capital! 
river breeze-
wearing pale persimmon robes,
the evening cool
kawakaze ya / usugaki kitaru / yusuzumi
- Bashō 1690
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