A PROPOSAL – an exhibition – “THE GREATER REMBRANDT” Poster to display in Art History Departments
May 192010

When Prof.E.H.Gombrich opened my second exhibition at Imperial College, he described me as “having prepared a great feast for art historians at which I invited them to eat their own words” I took it as a joke, never doubting that the evidence gave them no option but to recant (I have reproduced much of the evidence on this blog.) Now, thirty years later, I have to acknowledge that what still appears to me as irrefutable evidence can be passed off as simply a personal opinion that can be ignored by the great Rembrandt establishment; and they have got away with it. Their colossal misjudgments, seem to provoke no dissent ( see Review Telling the Difference” below).

Has Art become such a specialist subject that no one presumes to question the “experts” even when the evidence is perfectly clear that they are wrong? In the case of Rembrandt the experts have dragged him down (over the last 40 years) from a position of the greatest eminence to one in which he is no longer trusted, but seen as an art operator of the Warhol type. For instance, Prof. S. Slive tells us of a book full of drawings of the nude by Rembrandt in his 1656 inventory then speaking of the male nudes “the fact remains that not a single one by his hand exists” from which statement Slive deduces that Rembrandt “was reckless with the truth”. I would suggest that the scholars are scandalously reckless with the drawings in their charge. Those wonderfully powerful Rembrandt drawings that have inspired modern draftsman from Rouault through the Expressionists to many in our day, recently have been  handed out  to unworthy students, whose work shows only the slightest similarity with Rembrandt’s.

How many of our art experts have any experience of practical art? Very few I would imagine. I find their published judgments deeply destructive. Instead of the unique genius, Rembrandt is now surrounded by students who can knock out a masterpiece in their master’s style when they feel inclined. Am I in a minority seeing the state of art criticism as decadent beyond belief? Artists need to write criticism again as Sickert did.

How has it happened so very quickly? The power of the experts has increased exponentially as the technology of art publishing has blossomed, so their apparent authority has grown. They now rule the world of art for the first time: They disburse government funds, they give the prizes, buy for the museums, advise the publishers, rule the auction houses, and write the reviews; the tail is wagging the dog. It is a terrible situation that needs to be reversed, and quickly.

There is still a great feast to be had in honour of the Greater Rembrandt! All that is needed is a change at the top: artists should rule in art again.

REVIEW “Telling the Difference” at The GETTY

There was an exhibition at The Rembrandthuis at the turn of the year 84/85 that gave ample reason to fear the madness that has now been carried through with a vengeance at The Getty. The devastation of Rembrandt’s portfolio is a crime.  The level of corporate madness is beyond belief, The Director of The Getty wrote, “Drawings by Rembrandt and his Pupils, telling the difference as stunning.” I agree but not in the sense that he probably intends.

Anyone who approaches this enormous volume in the hope of understanding what distinguishes the greatest master from his pupils will be sorely disappointed.   In the majority of cases the ‘experts’ are gravely mistaken, re-attributing genuine Rembrandt’s to his students.  As a result now we see the master as surrounded by little known nonentities who could, when they felt like it, turnout masterpieces.  Mr. Schatborn and his colleagues would have us believe that they have discovered the massive failures of judgement of all previous scholars.  Are we going to accept this arrogance?

Rembrandt scholarship of the last 50 years has been an escalating disaster.  Benesch’s catalogue of 1954, (which I would wish to enlarge) has been reduced by approximately 50%. The surplus master’s drawings have been handed out indiscriminately to unworthy students.  In some cases the experts cannot even prove that they have been Rembrandt’s students. The idea that a moderate student could porduce a Rembrandt look-alike that has passed for a Rembrandt because of its penmanship and sharpness of observation and then chosen to revert back to their middling talent is just too absurd. This catastrophe can only have resulted from the inbreeding of Rembrandt scholarship. No new blood or ideas are allowed to enter. The Rembrandt Mafia have hermetically sealed themselves from the intrusion of advise from the practitioners.

No draftsman could possibly go along with the recent misjudgments, where some of Rembrandt’s finest drawings have been handed out to mediocrities or, in the case of Carel Fabritius, to a fine painter who had not previously shown a talent for drawing. There is no evidence whatever that these scholars have the least idea of what makes a great drawing (see www.saveRembrandt.org.uk for details).

Some of the reproductions in this lavishly produced volume are so small as to preclude the necessary comparisons. Common sense forces me to believe that scholarship since my article in “The Burlington Magazine” February 1977 is not only misguided but fraudulent. Anyone contemplating a libel action on the strength of this statement should study that article and the letter from Prof. E.Haverkamp Begerman (link) which conveniently summarizes the false assumptions on which Rembrandt scholars have continued to destroy Rembrandt in the face of my own evidence and the unanimous voice of Rembrandt’s contemporaries.

The crucial points are

1.Rembrandt “would not attempt a single brush-stroke without a living model before his eyes”(Houbraken). Or, “Our great Rembrandt was of the same opinion that one should follow only nature, anything else was worthless in his eyes.” (Karel van Mander as reported by Houbraken) and there are many more quotes of the same character. The scholars would have us believe exactly the opposite: that Rembrandt actually taught his students to invent, not to observe.

  1. The evidence in My article “Rembrandt’s Use of Models and Mirrors” proves, beyond reasonable doubt, that these statements from Rembrandt’s contemporaries are remarkably accurate. The proof of groups of live models in Rembrandt’s studio for the Biblical and other group subjects is incontestable. My recent film on Youtube “Rembrandt’s Adoration of the Shepherds” makes the same point on a grand scale. There we see practically the entire subject matter of two paintings (one seen direct and the other observed from Rembrandt’s same position but reflected in an angled sheet of polished pewter, accurately recorded by Rembrandt even to the extent that the more impressionistic technique suggests the blurred quality of the image reflected in polished metal. Both paintings were once accepted as by Rembrandt). The chances of these very complex space relationships happening by chance, or being constructed by calculation must be millions to one against. There are just too many reversals seen from a different point of view. To suggest, as Prof. E.Van der Wetering does that these were typical exercises in Rembrandt’s atelier is unacceptable lunacy.

This evidence which cuts the ground from under the scholars view is not mentioned let alone discussed in the Getty catalogue. Peter Schatborn who master-minded the catalogue of The Rembrandthuis exhibition from his position in charge of the prints and drawings at the Rijksmuseum, was also the major contributor of the exhibition at The Getty. He can hardly claim ignorance of my discoveries as he translated my second article into Dutch for inclusion in The Rembrandthuiskroniek in 1978.

The fact is that today’s art theorists seem to have no understanding of the importance of observation in human affairs. It is not enough that scientists are so good at it, their observations are specialized; artistic observation is also specialized but specialized in a different area, an area where the neglect is already horrifyingly apparent. By destroying Rembrandt, the figurehead of observed art, the theorists have slued modern art with such success we have to doubt whether it can ever recover. First we must recover The Great Rembrandt by putting an end to Rembrandt scholarship as it now exists. Do not burn their books, preserve them as a warning to future generations of ‘experts’.

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