Ulster Museum’s first post-lockdown exhibition: six gifted etchings by Rembrandt

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25 September 2020

Six etchings, dating from the c.1630s-50s, by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669), and acquired for the nation through the HMRC’s Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, are to make their Irish debut in the Ulster Museum’s newest exhibition since reopening after lockdown.

These are the first works by Rembrandt to enter a public collection in Northern Ireland and while two of them made a brief appearance in December 2019 this will be the first time the whole collection can be viewed together in the exhibition: A Unique Silence: Welcoming Rembrandt’s etchings to the Ulster Museum Collection.

Rembrandt is perhaps the best-loved and most admired painter of the seventeenth century. Born in Leiden, he spent much of his life in Amsterdam where he dazzled audiences with his ambitious biblical scenes, history paintings and portraits.  Rembrandt made drawings and prints throughout his career, often using a unique process of mark-making to explore his ideas about light and shade, landscape and the depiction of emotion and character.

Arguably the most important artist to work in the medium, Rembrandt was famous in his lifetime for his etchings, his portraits being highly sought after. He produced around 300 known etchings, pushing the medium to its extremes.

Anna Liesching, Curator of Art, National Museums NI, comments:

“Rembrandt was a tireless experimenter who brought many innovations to the art of etching. Through this experimentation he developed an incredible skill at capturing contrasts of light and shade, perfecting a method to creat a strikingly atmospheric image.

Though many of his paintings are associated with the dramatic and awe inspiring style of Baroque painting, Rembrandt’s etchings communicate a unique silence that is often found in the Golden Age of Dutch art. The etchings are on display with works from the wider Ulster Museum print collection.”

She added: “This gift immeasurably transforms the Ulster Museum collection, as these are the first works by Rembrandt to enter a public collection in Northern Ireland. We are very grateful to Arts Council England for this allocation from the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme.”

The six etchings include: Bearded man in a furred cap and robe; The Artist’s Mother, seated at a table, looking right; The Sleeping Herdsman; Six’s Bridge; The Adoration of the Shepherds: with the lamp; and The Descent from the Cross by torchlight.

The etchings on display present a range of subject matter and from a prolific period of the artist’s work – from the simpler portrait line etchings of the early 1630’s to the bold, rich and emotional ‘Descent from the Cross’ from the 1650’s. Rembrandt’s landscape etchings also show his skill at making loosely drawn etchings that ‘read like drawings’ and the large landscape depicting Six’s Bridge is a particularly fine example of this method.

A Unique Silence: Welcoming Rembrandt’s etchings to the Ulster Museum Collection exhibition opens on Friday 25 September. Admission is free.

The safety of staff and visitors remains a priority for National Museums NI. The Ulster Museum is limiting the number of visitors on site at any one time. Pre-booking tickets is highly recommended to guarantee a particular time slot on a preferred date. For further information on the exhibition and accompanying events and to book free tickets visit www.nmni.com.