WHAT IS FORM? It happens as the artist searches for significance Monument to Elaine Morgan
Dec 132012

I finally received the answer to my letter to the Getty. (see below) It did not surprise me. I have been receiving such refusal from art historians to discuss since I made my Rembrandt discoveries in 1974. The first was from Christopher White, who was then in charge of Rembrandt’s drawings at the British Museum. (He had written a good book on the etchings.) He did not commit himself in writing but after sitting on my first article for over a month he told his colleague, who had assisted me in composing the article, “that it would be very important if Konstam could prove it.” To a scientific mind it was proven then; as far as is possible to prove anything of this nature.

The Burlington Magazine refused my article until E.H.Gombrich called a governors’ meeting at which it was suggested that he should help me re-write it, which he did. The article was then accepted by Benedict Nicholson the editor, who wrote “I find it of the greatest possible interest and so I am sure will Rembrandt scholars, who must now get down to revising the corpus of  drawings.” The appalling revision that has taken place since then has been in the opposite direction to that I proposed.

Pieter Schatborn (recently of the Rijksmuseum) who master-minded the Getty show, translated my second artictle into Dutch. It was printed in Rembrandthuiskroniek (1978) but he has taken no notice of its contents since. I spent an evening with him in his flat taking him through the contents of the book on Rembrandt that I was preparing. He was unable to produce any counter arguments.

My agents informed me that Phaidon had accepted my book “with the whole editorial board behind me” knowing how controversial it was. They only awaited a reader’s report. When it came it was so damning Phaidon dropped the project and ran. On first reading I was shaken myself but on looking into the report I realized it was nothing more than a  cunningly concocted swindle. Thirty years later I am still looking for a brave enough publisher.

After a perfectly reasonable exchange of letters with Martin Royalton Kisch, who had succeeded White at the British Museum, he gave me a hefty thumbs down in his catalogue of Rembrandt Drawings (having entirely ‘misread’ my analysis of two drawings of Rembrandt’s first mistress). I countered with three newspapers (The Save Rembrandt Campaigner) and a showing at St Martin’s in the Fields, to try to get my viewpoint heard at the time of the theoretical debate 1991 “Rembrandt and his Workshop”.

The National Gallery (London) actually took the microphone from me (on the orders of Christopher Brown, then keeper of Dutch paintings there) because I asked to show three slides which would have put an end to their novel and destructive viewpoint. The educated public having suffered from the teachings of The Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) since 1969,  can probably no longer remember the greater Rembrandt. (The RRP and their followers in the departments of drawings have reduced the accepted Rembrandt works by over 50% because of their misguided ideals in art.)

When I asked The National Gallery for space to present an alternative view at that time I got an almost identical letter as that from the Getty. The BBC  has refused to take any further interest after they discovered how my view of Rembrandt upsets the establishment. My view happens to be in complete accord with the known opinion of Rembrandt’s contemporaries. Other publishers and broadcasters have followed suit. For further interest I have scanned similar letters from the RRP and from E.Havercamp Begermann (Yale).

I gave a talk at Harvard  in 1978, which fell on deaf ears. I thought the many doctoral students there would go back to their books and see the sense of my view. Alas, many of that large audience will have been teaching the standard guff  on Rembrandt ever since. The guff is absurdly complicated, Rembrandt is easy to understand if you get the fundamentals right. Rembrandt was the great sign-post for artists saying observe, observe , observe “anything else was worthless in his eyes”.

This controversy between Rembrandt the observer and Rembrandt the inventor, has been successfully swept under the rug  since 1974. Though I have had a few successes at the Wallace Collection and recently The National Gallery where Rembrandt’s  “The Adoration of the Shepherds” rejected by RRP has now been replaced as a Rembrandt, where it belongs. (see YouTube for Konstam saying yes it is, and the National Gallery saying no, it isnt.)

It is difficult to escape thinking that art historians perhaps resent the intrusion of an artist into their private kingdom. Art History belongs to artists and the public at large, we need to get it straight. Look at what has happened to painting since the down-grading of Rembrandt. This is our culture in headlong decay!

I have made several similarly important discoveries in the field of art history and archaeology which have been similarly neglected. Best known is the role of life-casting in ancient Greek sculpture, which featured in the film Athens II as well as the Oxford Journal of Archaeology. The full story can be found in the second edition of my book Sculpture, the Art and the Practice.

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