Home > Art, Museums > Seattle Art Museum: Kenwood House

Seattle Art Museum: Kenwood House

February 17, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments
Rembrandt self portrait, circa 1665

Rembrandt self portrait, circa 1665

A new exhibition—Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London—opened last week at the Seattle Art Museum. Ordinarily, I would have written a post by now about last Tuesday’s event: the program of dignitary remarks and curator overviews, the refreshments, the exhibit itself. We were signed up to go. But there was a conflicting lecture I couldn’t miss (on which, more in an upcoming post) and our plan of getting to both didn’t work out, to our great disappointment.

Here is the overview of the exhibition, courtesy of Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s deputy director and curator of European painting:

Within the neoclassical Kenwood House at Hampstead Heath on the outskirts of London, resides a magnificent painting collection known as the Iveagh Bequest. Kenwood is home to an exceptional collection of Old Master paintings, including major works by Gainsborough, Hals, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Romney, Turner, Van Dyck, and many others. The Iveagh Bequest was donated to Great Britain by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847–1927) and heir to the world’s most successful brewery. Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: Treasures of Kenwood House, London, a selection of approximately 50 masterpieces from the collection, will tour American museums for the first time. Among other treasures, the exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see Rembrandt’s late Portrait of the Artist (ca. 1665), which has never left Europe before.

The Earl of Iveagh’s personal collection was shaped by the tastes of the Belle Époque—Europe’s equivalent to America’s Gilded Age. His purchases reveal a preference for the portraiture, landscape, and seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings that could typically be found in English aristocratic collections. Since the earl was a newcomer to London emigrating from his native Ireland, he may have selected works that would help him fit in with his peers and elevate his social standing.

The exhibition from Kenwood House will be complemented by a companion exhibition, European Masters: Treasures of Seattle. Featuring about 30 works from local collections, the show traces the burgeoning enthusiasm for Old Master paintings in Seattle over the last 20 years.

The Rembrandt self portrait at the top of this post is the work SAM is using in their advertising for the show. You can see it and more at this webpage, which has a series of paintings on each of which one can click for more information. About the Rembrandt, for instance, we learn:

By this time, the 59-year-old Rembrandt had become a celebrated painter in Amsterdam, where he was regarded as “the wonder of our age.” So he chose to paint himself as he was: not dressed up like a gentleman in fancy garments but rather, a painter wearing work clothes as if he’s in his studio.

In most self-portraits, he dons a trademark black beret. But here, he’s chosen a white linen cap and a fur-trimmed gown. He’s a great painter and in this three-quarter length frontal portrait, that’s how we get to know him.

Kenwood House is a property of English Heritage, described at its website as “the Government’s statutory adviser on the historic environment. Officially known as the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, we are an executive Non-Departmental Public Body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.” We have the good fortune to be invited to an evening at the exhibition sponsored by English Heritage at which their senior curator, Susan Jenkins, will give a tour. We’re not passing this one up. I’ll have more to say soon.

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Categories: Art, Museums
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