Updated: Feb 23, 2020
Dulwich Picture Gallery, the world’s first purpose-built art gallery, recently welcomed a number of community groups to see their latest exhibition ‘Rembrandt’s Light’. I was among a senior group from the Copleston Centre who attended on 28 October as part of the centre’s Silver Linings programme.
The afternoon started well with the P13 bus taking us from the Avondale Road bus stop to the corner of Dulwich College Road. The driver had kindly waited quite a few minutes to enable us all to get on board, so it was like a private bus! We had a warm welcome at the gallery, with cake and cold drinks before the guided tour began.
The guide, Hilary Gasper, explained that many of the paintings had been lent by museums in France and Holland and by the National and the Queen’s Gallery. The focus of the exhibition is the way Rembrandt painted light, using extreme effects to illuminate the shadows and dark interiors. The house where he lived and worked is outlined on one of the walls of the gallery and provided a backdrop to Hilary’s talk. In his studio there, he painted many of his famous works, including ‘the Denial of the St Peter’, with light from a glowing fire showing the dramatic moment when Peter’s betrayal is exposed. In other paintings, light is provided by the sun streaming in through windows and even by candlelight. A number of small sketches show the effect of light and shadow on faces and clothes.
Beside moments of high drama, Rembrandt paints intimate stories. Perhaps the loveliest and most moving are those of family groups. Of Saskia his wife, Titus his son and Hendrickje Stoffels, his longtime partner, who in the dramatic ‘Woman Bathing in a Stream’, is shown shyly looking down at the water. There is a luminosity in her skin and dress, striking against a dark background.
The paintings that remain with me are the self-portraits. One from 1642 shows Rembrandt wearing black velvet headgear and a gold earring, displaying his success at that time. He looks at the viewer appraisingly, with judgment and compassion. His later self-portraits, one or two included in the exhibition, show him older, sadder and possibly poorer. But his eyes continue to look directly and knowingly at the viewer.
Dulwich Gallery has put together an extraordinary exhibition and we all appreciated the opportunity to see the wonderful paintings.
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Gallery Road, Dulwich,
London SE21 7AD
Tel: 020 8693 5254
C. Cronin, 28 October 2019