It took some time for my friends and me to schedule a day to travel to the Milwaukee Art Museum to visit one of the three shows attributed to this brilliant Dutch artist, Jan Lievens. While the first exhibit took place in fall of 2008 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the second exhibit will continue in Milwaukee until the end of April, 2009, and the other take place in the Rembrandthius in Amsterdam from May to August, 2009.
Painter and draftsman Jan Lievens (1607-1674) was born in Leiden, The Netherlands. At eight years of age, he was apprenticed to a local Dutch painter and then to the Amsterdam teacher Pieter Lastman (1583-1633).
At the young age of twelve, Lievens embarked on his own illustrious career. Some of his early works are included in this exhibition, and they are the most exciting. One of the most brilliant is “Old Woman Reading,” a portrait of a passionate thinker who was most likely modeled by someone from young Lievens’s own family—perhaps his mother or grandmother.
The memorable exhibition, “Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered” is the first comprehensive set of exhibitions to honor this artist since his death in 1669, and we are fortunate to have two of these exhibits occurring in the U.S., particularly less than an hour’s drive from Chicago. The last exhibition of his work was in Europe in 1979 and was subtitled “A Painter in the Shadow of Rembrandt.”
This exhibition presents forty-five of the artist’s paintings, several of which are newly discovered. In the past, nine of the displayed paintings were credited to Rembrandt between the seventeenth century and modern times, including “Saint Paul,” “The Feast of Esther,” “Still Life with Books,” “Portrait Head of an Old Woman” (a.k.a. “Rembrandt's Mother”), “The Penitent Magdalene,” “Preciosa and Doòa Clara,” “Bathsheba Receiving King David's Letter,” “Raising of Lazarus,” and “Gideon's Sacrifice.”
Also on display are thirty-four prints and twenty-eight of the eighty-three Lievens drawings that are known to exist. Among them are “The Raising of Lazarus,” “Portrait of an Elderly Man,” “Village Street with a Windmill,” and “Forest Interior with a Draftsman.” Museums and prestigious international private collections from England, Europe, and America have loaned his work to this exhibition, and this is an excellent opportunity to reconsider the value and importance of Lievens's artwork.
On the advertisement for the exhibition, a powerful point is made: “Out of Rembrandt’s Shadow.” This point alone may have been responsible to attract the thousands of art lovers that have attended these shows, many of them not familiar with Jan Lievens’s work beforehand. For my part, in spite of my lifetime love of collecting reproductions of artwork in different forms, the paintings of Jan Lievens were unbeknownst to me, though I visually knew some of his work.
© Rachel Madorsky