Classical Culture

Post-election: Beauty will Prevail!

Here’s a proposal: Instead of stressing, despairing, obsessing over the unthinkable election taking place today, do something good for yourself. If poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world (Shelley), then painters are the unacknowledged shapers of how we view the world. The National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) has an exhibit which will provoke you to think, lift your spirits, enlighten you, and brighten your day.  “Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt” (till Jan. 2), is a treat for the eyes and for the mind.
In addition to presenting many beautiful works of art (90+ drawings, 27 paintings), the exhibit is pedagogically brilliant: It shows numerous examples of the drawings done in preparation for paintings; the drawings and paintings are exhibited side-by-side, so the viewer is able to see the creative process at work. And they are all, as the title makes clear, from the 17th Century Dutch Golden Age.
Below, I reproduce just 3 of the works in the exhibition.
Here is the image that the NGA has selected to represent its show.


This work, by Michel van Musscher (1660s), An Artist in His Studio, illustrates how Dutch artists referred to their drawings when composing their paintings. Here, an artist mixes paints with a palette knife while holding his brushes as he makes a preliminary oil sketch on his canvas based on the drawings spread out near his feet.


This beautiful red chalk drawing, Old Man Seated, 1631, demonstrates Rembrandt’s ability to employ a range of tones to capture the light and shadow that fall on the man. Rembrandt used the figure to represent the Old Testament patriarch Jacob in Joseph Telling His Dreams, the oil sketch seen below.


Rembrandt van Rijn, Joseph Telling His Dreams, 1633, grisaille, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

I strongly urge you to see this wonderful exhibit for yourself, and allow it to lift you out of the unhappy contemplation of our present political reality, while inspiring you to do what you can to change things for the better!

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