Thru 20 May 2012
"What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters."
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Rembrandt and Degas: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through May 20, 2012, features a series of early portraits by the two artists and highlights the Dutch master’s guiding influence on the young French Impressionist. The first exhibition to examine this subject, it unites some two dozen works by the artists, including oil portraits, drawings, and etchings from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection and other museums in the United States and abroad. The intimate scale of the exhibition and size of the works on display illuminate the unique kinship that exists between the self-portraits created by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917) at the start of their illustrious careers.
The exhibition was organized by the Rijksmuseum, in association with The
Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
The Metropolitan Museum has enjoyed recent collaborations with both institutions, respectively: Miró: The Dutch Interiors with the Rijksmuseum (2010) and Impressionist and Early Modern Paintings: The Clark Brothers Collect with the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (2007).
In the 19th century, appreciation for Rembrandt’s genius, which had wavered since his death, gained renewed popularity, particularly in France. By the 1850s, when Rembrandt enjoyed nearly cult-like status, Degas was seeking to establish his own artistic identity. Frustrated by the rigidity of the École des Beaux-Arts, in Paris, he quit school, setting off for Italy for three years of independent study to find his voice as an artist. During this pivotal period, Degas studied prints by Rembrandt in French and Italian collections, often copying them into his sketch books, and even developing one of them into an etching. These exercises gave way to a series of self-portraits in which Degas explored, for the first time, the creative potential of repetition as well as a range of tonal effects, from subtle shading to dramatic contrasts of light and dark, inspired by Rembrandt’s graphic invention.
This highly focused exhibition—not unlike the Metropolitan’s recent Cézanne’s Card Players in spring 2011— affords a unique perspective on the Metropolitan Museum’s Degas Self-Portrait (ca. 1855-56) in oil and more than a dozen of the Museum’s works on paper by the artists, including multiple states of etchings, which are rarely on view. Beyond highlighting the heritage of these early works by Degas, the exhibition offers the opportunity to consider the respective legacies of two artists who might not otherwise invite comparison. The self-portraits Degas made in his twenties are seen side-by-side with those Rembrandt made at the same age and stage in his career. Degas’s self-portraits languished in obscurity, while he went on to become “illustrious and unknown,” and Rembrandt’s ensured his lasting fame.
Rembrandt and Degas also presents a handful of works by contemporaries of Degas, such as Henri Fantin-Latour, to document that Degas was not alone in his admiration for Rembrandt. Anchored by works from the Metropolitan Museum’s distinguished Degas holdings (which are second only to the French National Museums) and from the Rijksmuseum, the exhibition also features key loans from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the Bayerische Staatgëmaldesammlungen in Munich, The Getty Museum, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Morgan Library & Museum.
The exhibition was previously on view at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Rembrandt and Degas: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is organized at the
Metropolitan Museum by Susan Alyson Stein, Curator in the Museum’s Department of European Paintings.