Starting July 19th, we’re teamed up with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to dissect and re-imagine the world of art. Similar to public policy, high art has a reputation for being distant and complicated to most people. However, we want to show that everyone can engage with these exciting ideas. Our first guest is Rembrandt expert, Tom Rassieur, with whom we’ll discuss Rembrandt in America, a current exhibit at the MIA. How the collection came to Minneapolis is a fascinating story. This StarTribune article gives us a slight peek at the horse trading that occurs with masterpieces.
Few geniuses are able to pull off a single name nom de plume. Similar in concept to a brand, in the art world it’s usually a mark of great prestige. While he is most famous for his iconic style of portraiture, his own history is just as alluring and mysterious. He was an excellent salesman and self promoter. While his paintings are immaculate, the man himself was blemished and flawed.
Despite his widespread fame and wealth, he spent beyond his means. Living lavishly, he spent his fortune on decorating his homes with other works of his peers and those he admired. He lost nearly everything after he was unable to pay his creditors. When his wife passed, she left their son her estate with the stipulation that Rembrandt could live off of it until he was able to marry again and was then required to pay it back. Interestingly, as Mr. Rassieur notes in an essay,
“In order to care for Titus [his son], Rembrandt hired a childless widow as a nurse. Her name was Geertje Dircx, and she soon became Rembrandt’s mistress. In 1649 they had an acrimonious breakup, probably over Rembrandt’s attentions to a new housekeeper, the young Hendrickje Stoffels. Rembrandt offered Geertje a sixty-guilder annual pension, but she decided to file a breach-of-promise suit. Rembrandt was ordered to pay her two hundred guilders per year. When it came time to sign the agreement, Geertje created a scene and would not cooperate. With the aid of her brother, Rembrandt succeeded in having Geertje confined to a spinhuis – a workhouse for deranged women – for a term of twelve years. After five years Geertje was released on grounds of ill health, and she died a year later.”
The veracity of many of his paintings have been called into question as well. He ran a workshop and often a work might be a composite of different painters. One might do the face, another the clothes, and Rembrandt might finish with the hands (Hands are difficult to paint). In some cases it’s suspected that he didn’t even put brush to canvas except to sign his name at the bottom. Compounding that, his style was influential and widely imitated at the time, meaning everyone else was painting in his style. The exhibit in the museum notes this, offering several “fakes” and asks you to be the judge of which are real.
If these types of intrigue don’t make for interesting inspiration for an improv comedy show, you haven’t been paying attention. This show was on Thursday, July 19th at the MIA at 7:00 and we talked with Tom Rassieur about Rembrandt’s stories and explored the complicated world of an artistic genius through improv comedy.