Do you have a favourite piece of artwork that you make a point of visiting, whenever you find yourself in a certain gallery, or in another city? I have several; they seem to act as touchstones for me. Perhaps they give me a sense of familiarity in a foreign setting as I explore new things. This impulse certainly speaks to the power of good art to inspire me, and reassure me.
This painting almost makes me swoon….and I don’t swoon easily. In person, it appears luminous. Technically speaking, it is gorgeous: the rich colours, the play of light and dark, and the composition guide our attention to his hands, and his steady gaze.
Rembrandt was about 50 years old when he painted this self portrait. Not only does the painting reflect his technical virtuosity , but it provokes a strong emotional response. He portrays himself confidently. He is dressed sumptuously. With a staff and his hat, he seems ready to meet anyone and any challenge in the world.
He looks directly at the viewer. He certainly engages this viewer, who feels an uncanny connection to this man. His gaze seems open, and honest. It appears that he acknowledges, and accepts, the complexity of life. Does the set of his mouth suggest a bemused attitude, or a resigned one? Whatever the interpretation, the portrait exudes humanity, warmth and life.
The next time you’re in New York, you might want to drop into the Frick, and experience this portrait. As far as I know, it’s on permanent display….and rightfully so.