Early portraits by Rembrandt, Degas on display | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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Early portraits by Rembrandt, Degas on display

A new exhibition featuring a series of early portraits by Rembrandt and the French Impressionist Edgar Degas reveals a kinship between the two artists and the impact the Dutch master had on future generations.

art and culture Updated: Feb 24, 2012 16:01 IST
Rembrandt-Harmenszoon-van-Rijn
Rembrandt-Harmenszoon-van-Rijn

A new exhibition featuring a series of early portraits by Rembrandt and the French Impressionist Edgar Degas reveals a kinship between the two artists and the impact the Dutch master had on future generations.

"Rembrandt and Degas: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," which opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday and runs through May 20, resulted from a collaboration with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

"It traces the heritage of these works by Degas to a period in his career when he was looking closely at Rembrandt," said Susan Alyson Stein, curator of the museum's Department of European Paintings.

"But I think you can't help, when you look at their works side-by-side and give thought to the respected legacies of both artists, to consider how much they were really on the same page."

Although from separate centuries and vastly different in personality, with Rembrandt a very outgoing person, compared to the reclusive Degas, Stein said the works of both artists are rooted in direct observation. Both are also known for their novel invention and their realism and versatility as artists.

They were also "perhaps the most innovative figure painters and print makers of their day," she added.

The very focused exhibition consists of about two dozen paintings, drawings and etchings by Rembrandt, who worked in the in the 1600s, and Degas, who was born 165 years after his death.

It includes "Self-Portrait" by Degas in oil which was completed in 1856 and traces his development to a time when he was looking to find his way as an artist. It also shows the impact Rembrandt had on Degas from the 1850s when he studied and copied some of the Dutch master's prints which led to his own self portraits early on in his career.

The exhibition is anchored by works by Degas from the Metropolitan's collection.

The self-portraits done by Degas, many early in his career, only become known after his death, while Rembrandt was celebrated for his self-images which secured his fame.

"Here we have them as young artists, just starting out, exploring the virtues of self-portraiture and essentially on the same footing. They are both 23, or so, and it is before they came fully into their stride," said Stein.

The exhibit shows Degas working in a series and exploring the creative potential of repetition.

"So when we look ahead and think of how his career unfolds with bathers and jockeys and dancers, what he gained from close study and appreciation of Rembrandt's etching is playing into this larger picture, not only in his work as a printer but as a painter," said Stein.

"The exhibition allows you to think of genius, of the relationship of two artists. How many artists can hold their own next to Rembrandt?"