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