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Dutch Heads: Portraits and tronies in the circle of Rembrandt

One of the most captivating works in the Clowes Collection is the diminutive Old Man in a Tall, Fur-Edged Cap [Fig. 1]. Painted with a warm palette of earth tones, this venerable man seems lost in thought as he gazes out of the panel, his lips slightly parted in an expression of emotional absorption. His wrinkled skin and downy beard evoke his age and imbue him with a wisdom derived from a life long lived.

[Fig. 1] Old Man with a Tall, Fur-edged Cap, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10062

[Fig. 1] Old Man with a Tall, Fur-edged Cap, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10062

The painting has long been associated with the circle of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). Not only did the artist delight in depicting the folds and bags of old skin from early on in his career, but the manner of applying paint to the panel – contrasting thinner layers with thicker ones, using primarily broad brushstrokes – distinctly recalls the artist’s late style. Furthermore, such heavily clothed elderly men appear frequently in the artist’s compositions. They appear in various iterations as a disciple in the Supper at Emmaus of 1648, as a wise poet in his Homer of 1663, as Jacob in an illustration of Joseph recounting his dreams of the early 1640s, and even as a simple old man in a sketch from the 1640s. The clear differences in pose and scale, however, reveal that the Clowes panel is neither a preliminary study for nor direct copy after any of these works.

In addition, all indications suggest that this painting is not a fragment but a wholly independent, finished work. The man’s bust is framed at the center of the panel, without any disturbing cropping of his clothing or appendages. The neutral background does not expose any discontinuities in pattern, nor does it indicate shadows that would have suggested now-missing objects from a larger composition. The turned head and distant gaze of the sitter could imply a missing conversation partner, but it is equally likely that such a figure would have been merely implied. In fact, the averted gaze, combined with the fur-lined cap and coarse mantle, distinguish this figure as a tronie, or character study.

A tronie, a historical term meaning “head” in old Dutch, has been found to occur in 17th-century inventories to describe paintings of individual faces removed from their narrative context. The variety in usage of the word can be seen in the inventory recording the vast stock of the high-end art dealer Johannes de Renialme (c. 1600-1657): while the simple designation tronie seems to refer generically to a painted face, the term can also be used to specify the age (out troni or “old face”), sex (vrouwetronie or “woman’s face”), or even the fashion (antycqe troni or “antique face”) of the head portrayed. The term distinguishes the painting from a portrait (contrefeijtsel or portret in 17th-century Dutch), the foremost function of which is to convey the facial features of a specific person (contrefeijtsel van de Hartogh or “portrait of the duke”) and to indicate their profession or social status with secondary attributes. Tronies also differentiate themselves from single-figure history paintings, in which there is a concentration upon emotional expression and costume but also a notable narrative action. Tronies can be discerned through the handling of the paint, the posture of the body, the exaggerated facial expression, and sometimes through the obstruction of the face through dramatic shading and a communicative turn of the head. A second example in the IMA’s collection is a tronie [Fig. 2] depicting a young woman adorned with pearls and a diaphanous veil by Rembrandt’s pupil, Govaert Flinck (1615-1660).

[Fig. 2] Govaert Flinck (Dutch, 1615-1660), Woman in a Red Dress and Pearls, 1634; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Marguerite Lilly Noyes in memory of Josiah Kirby Lilly, 56.62

[Fig. 2] Govaert Flinck (Dutch, 1615-1660), Woman in a Red Dress and Pearls, 1634; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Marguerite Lilly Noyes in memory of Josiah Kirby Lilly, 56.62

Tronies occupied a special place in the oeuvres of Rembrandt and his colleague-cum-competitor Jan Lievens (1607-1674): the artists seem to have commodified the tronie as a new product for the art market during their early years in Leiden. Art historians like Yoriko Kobayashi-Sato and Franziska Gottwald have emphasized the origins of the tronie in the studios of late 15th- and early 16th-century artists like Perugino (1446-1523) and Leonardo (1452-1519), but the immediate examples for this “young and noble pair of painters” would have been the Antwerp artists Frans Floris (1517-1570), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), and Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). The major difference between the examples in the Flemish studios and those executed by Rembrandt and Lievens, however, would have been in their function. In the studio of Rubens, for example, a tronie would be painted by the master and employed as a model – by the master himself or his assistants – when executing a more complete narrative composition. Lievens and Rembrandt were young masters with few or no assistants in their Leiden workshops, and their highly worked-up tronies have little in common with their paintings of historical or mythological subjects. Rather, they came to market their tronies as independent paintings for the open market and developed such original character types as the “oriental” and “Rembrandt’s mother.” Dagmar Hirschfelder has found a reference to a tronie by Rembrandt in an inventory of 1628, just three years after he had begun to work as an independent master, which suggests that these paintings were immediately popular among art-loving audiences. The continued popularity of their tronies is demonstrated by the presence of such types of paintings by the hands of both Rembrandt and Lievens in Renialme’s estate inventory of 1657.

While the hand that executed our old man remains unknown, the overall proximity of the painting to Rembrandt’s style and its categorization as a tronie makes it a valuable asset to the Clowes Collection. Not only does this classification arrest our hunt for the composition for which it would have been made, but it redirects our attention to the general character that the artist captured through his attractive combination of costume, lighting, and facial expression. By qualifying this work as a tronie, this charming painting becomes an important marker of Rembrandt’s pioneering pictorial inventions.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, History, The Collection

 

The art in volunteering

Today's guest blogger is volunteer Pres Maxson. Pres has been volunteering for just a couple of months, but he is already an excellent addition. You can find him working at special events and the Visitor Information Desk. If you see him, be sure to say hi!

Today the air is crisp. I have all the windows down in the car, and I happily pull through the gates to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It’s perfectly autumnal outside, and I’m looking forward to starting my shift as an IMA volunteer.

A fan of the museum and art in general, volunteering my time at the IMA was a natural draw for me. As someone who strives to be creative and stay creative, the IMA is an obviously stimulating atmosphere. Not only is there beauty in the artwork itself, but the kind and talented people that I’ve already gotten to know a little bit in the process makes the entire experience all that much more enjoyable.

Volunteer Pres Maxson is waiting for you to visit the IMA.

Volunteer Pres Maxson is waiting for you to visit the IMA.

From where I sit today at the visitor information desk on the second floor, I have a front row seat to Sol Lewitt’s Wall Drawing No. 652. Colorful, mosaic, and mind-bendingly expansive, it’s the perfect welcome to the galleries. If you stand just feet from it and gaze upward, it’s a reminder that life is especially attractive when all you see is art.

I also have a nice view into maybe my favorite area of the museum, the Sally Reahard Suite of European Art. Through its entryway directly in front of me, I get an excellent look at Fernand Leger’s Man and Woman and Joseph Bernard’s Young Girl Arranging Her Hair. The latter sculpture intrigues me because it seems to take on an almost entire different character when I walk around it. It’s almost as if the young girl’s mood changes, even though she stays perfectly still. Not bad for today’s office view.

Even more fun for me, is the scenery off to the right. Products of the Pont-Avon School, Seguin’s Two Thatched Cottages and Denis’ The Breton Dance hang in a soft and perfectly complementary light. If I crane my neck, I can also see a handful of Pont-Aven School etchings. My aunt and uncle have a small cottage in Brittany themselves, and the artwork has me wishing that my wife and I were back vacationing there, enjoying a pain au chocolat at a small café or strolling along the northerly coastline.

Setting my wanderlust and the artwork aside, I watch as several groups of students file through the second floor’s enormous sliding glass doors into Mary Fendrich Hulman Pavilion. Nearly everyone who passes greets me pleasantly, and I can’t help but feel slightly jealous that many of them will be experiencing the museum for the first time. For me, discovering the ambiance of the Clowes Pavilion, drawn to it by the quiet trickle of the fountain in the far back corner of the American and European art suites, is a moment I try to recreate every time I stroll through.

I also meet many of the museum’s members, some of whom I’ll admit know much more about the museum and its collections than I do. I learn something new every time that I volunteer, and I feel that I owe it to them more often than not. Since I began with the IMA, I have developed new favorite artists and pieces of artwork that I otherwise might not have noticed. Isn’t discovery half the fun of art?

If that’s the case, maybe the other half is rediscovery. Pieces like Edward Moran’s The Valley in the Sea say something different to me each time. Whether it’s noticing something in the brushwork that I hadn’t seen before or feeling a different dynamic from one day to the next, the ability to transform my perspective makes it a favorite. It’s tough to explain why a particular piece might resonate with me, and maybe as viewers we’re not supposed to try to put it into words. I’ve always thought that one’s relationship with artwork is largely personal, since everything speaks differently to every person.

So here I sit surrounded by all of it, pleasantly experiencing my fall afternoon. After today I’ll be back as a volunteer in two weeks, and I’m looking forward to the whole experience already. I’ll surely meet plenty of new faces, and who knows? Maybe I’ll leave with a new favorite work of art.

If you are interested in becoming an IMA volunteer, please visit our website for more information.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, The Collection

 

Hoosier thoughts on a Haarlem artist: Booth Tarkington on the IMA’s Portrait of Frans Hals

Louis Betts (American, 1873-1961), "Portrait of Booth Tarkington," 1941 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist. 42.12

[Fig. 1] Louis Betts (American, 1873-1961), “Portrait of Booth Tarkington,” 1941
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist. 42.12

In the preface to a catalogue of an exhibition at the John Herron Art Museum (the predecessor to the IMA) in 1937, Indianapolis native Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) [Fig. 1] expresses his admiration for the Portrait of Frans Hals [Fig. 2], then thought to be by the master’s own hand:

“…a keen and living bit of analysis from as quick and sure a brush as ever flicked canvas or panel.  Admirably and pathetically lacking the remotest taint of vanity, this picture would have satisfied Robert Burns; battered Frans Hals, without self-pity, could see himself as others saw him, but more shrewdly.”

Unknown artist (Dutch), "Portrait of Frans Hals," about 1650 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10047

[Fig. 2] Unknown artist (Dutch), “Portrait of Frans Hals,” about 1650
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of The Clowes Fund, C10047

 

 

 

 

 

The painting has since been qualified as the best surviving copy after a lost original by Hals. As the copyist retained many elements of the master’s signature style, however, Tarkington’s poetic words are still of interest to the modern viewer.

Tarkington’s characterization of Hals’s manner as “quick and sure” underscores the artist’s distinctive approach. The sketchy contours that suggest movement, the creation of tone through unblended brushstrokes [Fig. 3], and, foremost, the crisp slashes of color that sit unapologetically upon the surface – the final “master stroke” flicked onto the support that defines form – these are the elements that comprise the painter’s recognizable “rough” style. Hals puts these components into the service of a “keen and living bit of analysis,” suggesting the persuasiveness of the representation. Surprisingly, the Pulitzer Prize-winner’s brief description echoes many of the earliest commentaries upon the artist, such as those composed by Cornelis de Bie (1627-c. 1715), Govaert Bidloo (1649-1713), and Arnold Houbraken (1660-1719).

The portrait under consideration is not just any likeness, however, but the artist’s own visage. Tarkington celebrates the honesty with which Hals approached his own face, writing that the portrait lacks “the remotest taint of vanity.” Furthermore, he alludes to the difficulty of viewing oneself with such frankness by referencing Robert Burns’s 1786 poem “On a Louse”:

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!”

[Fig. 3] Detail of "Portrait of Frans Hals."

[Fig. 3] Detail of “Portrait of Frans Hals.”

Tarkington likely meant the furrowed brow, the bags under the eyes, the slightly misaligned eyelids, and the thin cheeks when he wrote about Hals’s “shrewd” perception of himself. Tarkington’s descriptors of “battered” and “without self-pity,” however, smack of early authors’ incorrect portrayals of the artist as a drunkard and hedonist. (For a laugh, read Houbraken’s life of the artist, in which the author notes that Hals’s students often helped their inebriated master home from the tavern and, once, played an ambitious prank on him.) These characterizations resulted from centuries of confusion between the painter and his cousin of the same name – thankfully, these accounts have been discredited. On the contrary, the respectable, though oft indebted, painter appears to have received a quarterly stipend from the city of Haarlem during his final years in recognition of his artistic abilities!

Though removed in time and space from the early writers on Hals, Tarkington continued their perceptions of the artist’s stylistic strengths. Employing zippy language and an evocative reference to Scottish poetry, Tarkington provided a captivating variation upon past literature that reinvigorates this portrait for viewers of the 20th century and beyond.

Filed under: Art, Exhibitions, History, Indiana, The Collection

 

The Golden Age anew: The IMA’s Dutch and Flemish gallery reinstalled

071814_dutch_flemish_01On July 18, the newly reinstalled gallery of Dutch and Flemish painting opens to the public. The Northern baroque paintings are one of the strengths of the IMA’s collection, and it is with pride that the IMA presents some of its most popular paintings – such as Aelbert Cuyp’s Valkhof at Nijmegen and Jan Miense Molenaer’s Battle Between Carnival and Lent – alongside some of the lesser-known gems, such as Govaert Flinck’s Woman in a Red Dress and Pearls. Several pictures are coming out of storage, including an excellent mid-17th century copy after a lost self-portrait by Frans Hals and a painting of an old man in a fur-edged cap by a follower of Rembrandt, both from the Clowes Fund Collection. The integration of these two Clowes pictures into the hanging in the William C. Griffith Jr. and Carolyn C. Griffith Gallery (H215) invigorates the survey of 17th century Northern painting.

071814_dutch_flemish_02

Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheyde, (Dutch, 1638-1698), “Dam Square in Amsterdam,” 1668
Collection of Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp

The highlight of the new gallery layout, however, is a long-term loan from the Koninklijk Museum voor  Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheyde’s Dam Square in Amsterdam [left] of 1668.  Recently treated by IMA paintings conservators, this is the artist’s largest and most vibrant interpretation of this site. The painting shows the “eighth wonder of the world,” the classicizing Amsterdam Town Hall (Stadhuis), overlooking the boxy Renaissance Weigh House (Waag) and the chancel and spire of the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk). The square, which bustles today with tourists as it bustles with magistrates and merchants in Berckheyde’s painting, occupied a central place in the Dutch national identity in the 17th century.

The cornerstone of the new Town Hall was laid on Oct. 20, 1648, in celebration of the Treaty of Westphalia, the agreement that officially recognized the Dutch Republic’s independence from Spain. The entire visual program of the building’s exterior is crafted, in fact, to speak to this newly gained freedom. The tympanum on the east façade displays the enthroned maid of Amsterdam surrounded by water creatures, who offer her crowns of laurel. This carved relief is surmounted by three free-standing sculpted figures; on the two sides stand Prudence and Justice. The figure of Peace crowns the pediment and holds aloft an olive branch, symbolizing peace, and the caduceus of Mercury, an allusion to wisdom and trade. Even the classicism of the architecture – the rounded arches of the ground-floor doorways, the prominent Composite and Corinthian pilasters on the second and third levels, the sculpted tympana, and the carved garlands between the pilasters – is meant to recall the style of that exemplary model of republicanism, Rome. That Peace stands atop a cornucopia, evoking abundance, is fundamental to the Town Hall’s placement on the Dam.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Inherent to sustaining this freedom is the economic and civic activity that we see depicted in a variety of forms in Berckheyde’s painting. The Weigh House, where imported cargo of more than 50 pounds was weighed upon entrance to the city, is the locus around which men roll barrels of wine [Fig. 2], horses pull heavy loads, and money exchanges hands. In front of it, a small fruit market marks the morning, while the buildings on the square’s south side (at the left of the painting) bear signs indicating a printseller and a notary [Fig. 3]. Even the pockets of magistrates chatting before heading into their chambers in the Town Hall suggest a thriving society. Berckheyde, who has animated the square here with more citizens than in most of his other versions, demonstrates the Dam to be a vibrant, essential location in the city.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

A more enlightening painting could not inaugurate the new gallery hanging. An expression of Holland’s new identity as a prosperous republic of the North, Berckheyde’s scene records the physical and cultural topography of Holland’s most important city. The artist’s brilliant sense of light and color, however, captivates the eye as it informs the mind, making the painting a welcomed temporary addition to our museum. Be sure to come see the new installation and admire Berckheyde’s painting!

 

Filed under: Art, Conservation, History, Installation, The Collection

 

Style and Science: Assessing a Rembrandt, Part 2

Today's blogger is Jacquelyn N. Coutré, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800.

Figure 1:  Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

Figure 1: Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

In the last posting on the Rembrandt self-portrait in the Clowes Collection (Fig. 1), we considered how art historians evaluated its status according to characteristics visible on the picture’s surface. But we can also gather scientific data to support this stylistic analysis.

In the early 1980s, IMA conservator David A. Miller examined the surface of the painting with a stereomicroscope and looked below its surface using X-rays (Fig. 3). The high magnification showed the “RHL” monogram to be contemporary with the painting, which means that it was applied while the painting was still wet. The x-radiograph, in turn, provided important insights into the artist’s creative process. It illustrates, in fact, two significant changes below the surface: the beret was originally poised more squarely on the head, and the contour of the proper left shoulder had previously extended further to the right. In other words, the artist had made changes to his painting while working on it, changes that would not have been visible to a student in his workshop or a later artist making a copy. The best of the other versions of this painting, the one in Atami, Japan, shows a strong correlation between the surface and underlying layers – telling evidence for the Atami version being a copy after the Clowes original! (It also omits those pesky pimples.)

Figure 3: X-radiograph of Figure 1

Figure 3: X-radiograph of Figure 1

But could the Clowes panel have been done by a later artist in order to look like a painting by the 17th-century master?

The investigations of Peter Klein, a wood biologist at the University of Hamburg, in 1999 help us to understand more about the panel upon which the painting was executed. It is made of oak and comes from the Baltic region, a profile typical of panels used by 17th-century Dutch artists. Relying on the facts that tree rings grow at different rates in different years and that trees of the same species in a particular region will show similar growth patterns, Dr. Klein has determined that the youngest growth ring in our panel dates to 1581. Add on a few years for the panel to dry and become less porous, and the painting could have been executed as early as 1598. While this may seem quite a few years before our estimated date of c. 1629, it confirms that the panel was ready to be used during Rembrandt’s lifetime.

Combining the stylistic and technical evidence yields the conclusion that our painting is indeed a self-portrait by Rembrandt. What was first supported only by connoisseurship is now augmented by scientific study – a wonderful demonstration of the important role that science plays in the museum.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, Technology, The Collection, Uncategorized

 

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