We move through the exhibition of Dutch golden age held at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney, admiring and studying the works of a plethora of painters. I am anticipating the golden moment.
Over the past couple of years I have devoted many hours to studying the works of Rembrandt, in the pages of hard-earned texts and online through sites such as the Google Arts and Culture Project. Now, thanks to the Rijks Museum and the Art Gallery of NSW I , along with thousands of others, can experience my first moment in front of an actual painting by this master.
And the experience is worth the eight hour train journey it took to be here. Standing, as the crowd ebbs and flows around me, feeling the rhythm of the brushstrokes, memorising the streaks and globs of paint, taking the visual journey along the pathways of light and shade, clarity and obscurity, object and void which the artist has engineered.
The various works and etchings are fascinating, but the three central paintings certainly hold the attention. Particularly the self-portrait.
Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul is a compelling portrait. Rembrandt's expression, which he must have maintained and reconfigured several times during the painting, appears to question me: Do you see? he asks.
I see the freer style of brushwork, compared to the paintings either side from younger years. I see bold bulging streaks and blobs and wisps which describe the idiosyncratic turban, the pocked nob of his nose and the greying curls of hair.
I see the ironic pinch of the mouth which once laughed gaily in youth, when he raised his drink and clutched his maid to him; the lips are tighter with age. The skin wrinkles and weeps. The eyes sink, dark and ponderous. The brows arch, at once saying I have seen, and do you see?
The composition of the picture speaks. The top right hand corner is void, darkness. The lower left quarter is almost nothingness, brown sleeve and bent arm, sloped shoulder, all hinted at. Below right is a hand, sketchy, gripping parchment with determination, all vague; a sword hilt stabs out from the bosom of the sitter, seeming to pierce his heart and vitals. Above left is the explosion of light, of countenance, of character, the delivery of the message.
It is a superb painting, one I feel very fortunate to have seen and to have communicated with.
I step back into my studio humbled and informed.
Do I see? Perhaps one day.
In the evening the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra performed a selection of Baroque works for a huge crowd, moving in a stream amidst the Dutch paintings and artworks. The experience was sublime.