It’s one of the most exciting episodes in art history, and one that still delights today. In the 17th century Dutch Republic – a newly wealthy and independent nation – the art of painting flourished like never before. Dutch artists sensitively observed the beauty of the world around them, transforming it with great skill into vivid and compelling paintings, from intense portraits and dramatic seascapes, to tranquil scenes of domestic life and careful studies of fruit and flowers.
The first major exhibition of Dutch masters in Sydney, Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum, comprises 78 exceptional works of art from the renowned Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, as part of the Sydney International Art Series 2017-2018.
Art Gallery of New South Wales director Dr Michael Brand said the close collaboration with the Rijksmuseum – the museum with the finest and most representative collection of Netherlandish art in the world – has enabled the Gallery to show art from Holland at its best.
“The Rijksmuseum is the jewel in the crown of the Netherlands’ cultural institutions and this exhibition offers visitors an exceptional opportunity to experience the Dutch masters, in particular Rembrandt and Vermeer, the two geniuses of Dutch art,” Brand said.
Rijksmuseum director Taco Dibbits said the museum was delighted that exceptional examples of the nation’s centuries-old works of Dutch art will be experienced by visitors to the Art Gallery of New South Wales this summer.
“The Dutch masters are still relevant today as art lovers around the world know, so I’m very pleased that visitors to the Art Gallery of NSW, including a new generation of Australians, will have the opportunity to meet the artworks of Rembrandt and many other masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age,” Dibbits said.
Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age presents a richly unfolding panorama of Dutch art and life during the 17th century – an era of unparalleled wealth, power and cultural confidence. The exhibition explores the subject matter that Dutch painters specialised in, and perfected, during this period.
Alongside masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer are outstanding paintings by Jacob van Ruisdael, regarded as the greatest landscapist of the Golden Age, and Jan Davidsz de Heem, renowned for his dynamic, colourful compositions of flowers. Subject matter also includes interior scenes, landscapes, townscapes and architecture and marine and history painting.
AGNSW exhibition curator Peter Raissis said Vermeer’s luminous Woman reading a letter (1663) and one of Rembrandt’s greatest works, Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul (1661), both of which are viewed by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year in the Rijksmuseum’s famed Gallery of Honour, are at the heart of the exhibition in Sydney.
“Visitors will see both these works in rare, close proximity, as well as an entire room dedicated to Rembrandt. The Rembrandt room includes seven oils and 16 of Rembrandt’s finest etchings, in superb quality impressions, including biblical and secular subjects,” Raissis said.
“Johannes Vermeer is one of the world’s most beloved artists but his work is seen very infrequently in Australia, as there are only 35 known pictures by him. Woman reading a letter is a perfect example of his work – painted when Vermeer was at the height of his powers and epitomising everything we love about his serene interior scenes,” Raisses added.
The NSW Government is pleased to support the Sydney International Art Series through its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW, which brings artworks by the world’s most outstanding artists exclusively to Sydney for locals and visitors to enjoy.
Since its inception in 2010, the Sydney International Art Series has generated over $134 million in overnight visitor expenditure for the State, and attracted over 1.8 million attendees, with over 180,000 overseas, interstate and regional NSW overnight visitors coming specifically to Sydney to view the exhibitions at the Art Gallery of NSW and the MCA.
Not only will visitors to the exhibition experience a number of paintings from the famed Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum, they will also be able to enjoy the works in an evocative display. With its nod to Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum, the exhibition is designed by Australian architect Richard Johnson AO. Johnson is best known for his creation of some of Australia’s most iconic cultural buildings and spaces, including AGNSW’s Asian galleries, in 2003. Johnson also developed the beautiful exhibition design for The Greats: masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Gallery in 2015/16.
Offering fascinating insights into 26 key paintings and narrated by award-winning British actress Miriam Margolyes, a free audio guide for visitors features a selection of 17th century music to accompany each room, selected by ABC Classics, as well as tracks written for children and audio descriptions of the paintings for people who are blind or vision impaired.
A variety of associated public and education programs are on offer for visitors of all ages. The Gallery will host a three-part lecture series featuring local and international experts, late night programs, music, daily guided tours and a suite of other events to provide visitors the opportunity to enjoy meaningful interactions with the artworks featured in the exhibition.
A lavishly illustrated publication to coincide with the exhibition has been published by AGNSW with the Rijksmuseum, written by Gerdien Wuestman, and available in the Gallery Shop.
Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum is made possible by the generosity of the exhibition’s major sponsor, EY and airline partner, Singapore Airlines.