Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London

The Milwaukee Art Museum is showing Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London   through January 13, 2013.    Victoria here, reporting about my several visits to this outstanding exhibition.  I wrote about it previously  here.  And I have attended a number of programs associated with the exhibition.

Curator of the exhibition, Dr. Susan Jenkins, is a senior curator at Kenwood House for English Heritage, the British government’s agency administering hundreds of historical sites, from Stonehenge to Cold War nuclear missile sites. She trained at London’s Courtauld Institute and previously served as a curator at Apsley House, the Wellington Museum.
Susan Jenkins

Four particular interests of Lord Iveagh guided his choice of paintings and these four are used to arrange the paintings at the MAM. They are: Dutch and Flemish artworks, long valued by the British aristocracy; Portraits of Women, particularly by the great 18th century British portraitists; Portrayals of Children; and Landscapes and Maritime pictures.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of the Artist, ca. 1665

Foremost in the first group is, of course, Portrait of the Artist, 1665, by Rembrandt van Rijn, among many other outstanding works by Van Dyke, Hals, and others. 


Joshua Reynolds, The Angerstein Children, ca. 1782-85

Thomas Gainsborough, Two Shepherd Boys with Dogs Fighting, 1783

The children’s portraits vary widely from the skipping miss of Sir Thomas Lawrence to the dramatic candlelit image by Joseph Wright of Derby. 

Sir Thomas Lawrence, Miss Murray, 1824-26

Joseph Wright of Derby, Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight, ca. 1768-70
Among the landscapes and maritime works is one of Joseph Mallord William Turner’s early seascapes which foreshadowed his later dramatic and unique techniques.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, A Coastal Scene with Fishermen Hauling a Boat Ashore
(“The Iveagh Sea-Piece”), ca. 1803-04
The erudite Christopher Lloyd spoke on “Contrasts in Royal Patronage: Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough.”  Mr. Lloyd is the former Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures (the Royal Collection, and served as Guest Curator for the MAM’s exhibition Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper, one year ago.

Mr. Lloyd characterized the personalities and gifts of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), a study in contrasts. Though both came from modest beginnings in the country, their approaches to their work could hardly have been different. Though both excelled at portraiture, they held entirely different attitudes toward the theory and practice of painting. Reynolds, founding president of the Royal Society of Art, was the ultimate insider, friend and colleague of the greatest men in literature, government and society. He studied and followed traditional methodology and utilized classical ideals by which to organize his works. Mr. Lloyd recommended reading Reynolds’ collected lectures on the theory and practice of painting, Discourses on Art.

Joshua Reynolds, Mrs. Tollemarche as “Miranda”, 1773-74

Gainsborough, said Mr. Lloyd, was an outsider, on the edges of the art establishment, always (in today’s terminology) pushing the envelope when it came to poses, techniques and even subject matter, though his popular portraits financed his life. Where Joshua Reynolds was official portrait painter to King George III, Gainsborough was more likely to favor – and be favored by – the raffish circle of George, Prince of Wales, who disagreed with his father on everything: his behavior, his friends and his taste in art.

Thomas Gainsborough, Lady Brisco, ca. 1776

Reynolds and Gainsborough definitely were rivals though when the latter was nearing death, Reynolds reconciled with him and praised Gainsborough’s achievements. They were men of great, but very different, skills and temperaments. Mr. Lloyd suggested that visitors to the exhibition look for the great contrasts in the styles and techniques of the two artists; Six pictures by Gainsborough and nine by Reynolds are on display.

The exhibition Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Gainsborough: The Treasures from Kenwood House is organized by The American Federation of Art and English Heritage. After it closes in Milwaukee in January, 2013, it will travel to Seattle and Arkansas.
Milwaukee Art Museum

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