Rembrandt, Snarling Bear, Devils Dazzle at Morgan Dutch Treat

"Red and White Tulip ('Gemarmerde van Kaer')" by Pieter Holsteyn II. The mixed media work is included in a section devoted to the natural world, in the show "Rembrandt's World: Dutch Drawings from the Clement C. Moore Collection." Source: Morgan Library & Museum via Bloomberg

“Rembrandt’s World: Dutch Drawings from the Clement C. Moore Collection” could be classified as a bait-and-switch exhibition. Only four drawings out of more than 90 are by Rembrandt.

But don’t let that deter you.

The show, part of a promised gift to the Morgan Library & Museum, is wide-ranging and eccentric enough to offer a rich view of Dutch Golden Age art, as well as portraits of a period and of an unconventional collector.

And to see Rembrandt among his followers, students and peers has its own rewards.

The Dutch Republic’s Golden Age, a period of maritime supremacy, enormous growth and prosperity, lasted roughly from 1609 to 1672 and fostered a middle class hungry for pictures about their life.

So we see ordinary people in varied settings: towns, landscapes, canals, windmills, homes and harbors.

Divided into sections such as portraiture, marine views, landscapes, the natural world and genre scenes, the handsome, one-room exhibition focuses on artists who worked primarily close to home and drew directly from life.

Snarling Bear

It offers an extensive range of subjects and themes -- from Danae receiving the Golden Rain to the Adoration of the Magi; from fishermen, peasants and shepherds to the Dutch fleet, revelers at a wedding, birds, tulips and a snarling bear.

The show’s main attraction is Rembrandt. But it is instructive to remember that he, like his countryman Jan Vermeer, is an anomaly.

Few artists here come close to matching Rembrandt’s exactitude and spiritual depth, as well as his ability to create naturalistic light.

Rembrandt’s solid black chalk drawing believed to be of St. Peter preaching to a mesmerized crowd -- with his hand outstretched, like that of a magician -- makes visually palpable the power of the spoken word, moving from figure to figure. Yet Rembrandt is not the only talent represented.

Anthonie Waterloo’s “Wooded Landscape by Moonlight” emits a romantic bluish glow; its foreground trees appear to be strolling arm-in-arm, like lovers.

Animals, Devils

In Jacob Adriaensz Backer’s chalk study of a sleeping youth, the rustling surface of his cloak suggests uneasy dreams. And Philips Koninck’s aerial view “Panoramic Landscape with a Pond and a Windmill” is golden, gorgeous -- a fluid sweep into the far distance.

Fun yet fiendish is Cornelis Saftleven’s fantastical military parade of animals and devils, “Procession of Diabolical Creatures Making Music,” in which a demon clutching an upraised spear with both claws sails above the group like a windblown flag.

Cornelis Hendricksz Vroom’s ink drawing “Hills Beyond a River or Lake, with a Large Tree in the Foreground” is stippled, twinkling -- foretelling Impressionism. And the writhing forms in Jan Van Goyen’s pen-and-brown-ink drawing “Gnarled Oak Tree near Farm Buildings” suggest the hand of the Post-Impressionist Dutch master Van Gogh.

But back to Rembrandt. There’s a remarkable ink drawing of a beggar leaning on a walking stick. Its energies flow from the figure’s collapsing hat down through his pointed chin and long coat to the tip of his boot, like heavy rain, as he steadies himself against a world that is racing out from under him.

Look, also, for Rembrandt’s study of a woman for “Christ Healing the Sick (Hundred Guilder Print).” The woman’s lower body is lame, grounded, exposed. Her upper body is elevated, expectant and inward. Here, hope and humility are interwoven.

You realize why Rembrandt, even with merely a cameo appearance, commands top billing.

(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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