Museum Director Marcelle Giving a Press Preview

Milwaukee Art Museum Presents Jan Lievens: Out of Rembrandt’s Shadow

Posted on January 24th, 2009

Milwaukee, WI, October 30, 2008—The first U.S. exhibition of the work of Jan Lievens (1607–1674), one of the great Dutch artists of the 17th century, will be on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum February 7–April 26, 2009. Jan Lievens: Out of Rembrandt’s Shadow challenges the artist’s place in art history, calling into question why the artist has only been studied in the shade of his more famous contemporary, Rembrandt van Rijn.

Jan Lievens remains one of the most fascinating and enigmatic Dutch artists of his time. Daringly innovative as a painter, printmaker, and draftsman, the artist created powerful character studies, formal portraits, religious and allegorical images, and landscapes that were highly esteemed by his contemporaries. His work demonstrates a singular international style that combines the best of Netherlandish realism with the sensuous painting of Rubens, Van Dyck, and the Venetians.

The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue will present an overview of the full range of Lievens’ career. More than 110 of the artist’s finest works will be presented including 50 paintings, 28 drawings, and 34 prints.

Lievens was a child prodigy, whose early works in Leiden were highly praised by his contemporaries and valued by princely patrons. His later career was marked by important civic and private commissions in Amsterdam, The Hague, and Berlin. Nevertheless, his name today barely registers in the public consciousness. The exhibition and catalogue suggest that his posthumous reputation waned after many of his works were mistakenly attributed to other masters—especially Rembrandt (1606–1669), with whom he had a somewhat symbiotic relationship—and because he worked in a remarkable range of styles, reflecting multiple influences from the various cities in which he lived.

“Jan Lievens is overdue for a longer art historical evaluation,” notes Laurie Winters, curator of earlier European art at the Milwaukee Art Museum, who conceived of the exhibition while viewing paintings by Lievens in a private collection. “The last exhibition of his work—which was in Europe, in 1979—was subtitled ‘A Painter in the Shadow of Rembrandt,’ reflecting the tendency in the 1970s and 80s to evaluate Dutch artists only in their relationship to Rembrandt. This is the first in-depth exhibition to consider the other significant aspects of Lievens’ remarkable career.”

Arranged chronologically, Jan Lievens includes such masterful paintings as Lievens’ youthful and penetrating Self-Portrait (c.1629–1630). Dendrochronological examinations have revealed that Lievens used an oak panel made from the identical tree that supplied the panel for Rembrandt’s Samson and Delilah, suggesting that they purchased their panels from the same maker and perhaps even jointly.

Completed when the artist was not yet 20 years-old, the early masterpiece The Feast of Esther (c.1625) depicts the dramatic moment from the biblical Book of Esther when the queen reveals to her husband, the Persian king, the plot to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom, including herself. Esther points to the conspirator, Haman, who draws back in terror as the king glares at him before ordering his death. The painting demonstrates Lievens’ connection to the Utrecht Carravaggisti, artists from Utrecht who had adopted the realism and dramatic light of Caravaggio.

Bearded Man with a Beret (c. 1630) is an expressive character study of the type Lievens made during his Leiden period. In contrast to the old man’s modest attire, Boy in a Cape and Turban (c. 1631) is one of the most beautiful and compelling portraits of a figure in the romantic Eastern dress popular at the time. The sensitivity of the boy’s face expresses a hesitancy that belies the grandeur. Executed when the two artists were working together and possibly even sharing a studio, Lievens’ Portrait of Rembrandt (c.1629), captures his colleague’s proud bearing and thoughtful countenance with a portrait-like precision.  

Other highlights in the exhibition include Prince Charles Louis with His Tutor, as the Young Alexander Instructed by Aristotle (1631)—painted for the king and queen of Bohemia—and The Lamentation of Christ (c.1640), an Antwerp period altarpiece that reflects the influence of Anthony van Dyck.

Among the works on paper are The Raising of Lazarus (1630–1631), an etching Lievens made after a painting of the same subject (also in the exhibition), and Village Street with a Windmill (c. 1650s), one of a number of Lievens’ landscape drawings from his Amsterdam period.

Lievens and Rembrandt were born in Leiden just over a year apart, studied with the same master, Pieter Lastman (1583–1633), and lived near one another until about 1632. Many parallels exist between the works that each produced in Leiden in the 1620s and early 1630s. Even though Lievens’ career began earlier, he was often wrongly described as a follower or student of Rembrandt. It is proposed in this exhibition and catalogue that, in many respects, Lievens was the initiator of the stylistic and thematic developments that characterized both artists’ work in the late 1620s.

Lievens’ late work has been consistently neglected, partially because earlier historians believe that he lost his way after leaving Rembrandt’s orbit, and succumbed to the influence of the great Flemish master Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) upon his move to London in 1632 in search of courtly success. In fact, after he moved to Antwerp in 1635—where he thoroughly adapted the prevailing taste for Flemish modes of painting—Lievens achieved the international renown he so desperately sought. After his return to the Netherlands, he received important commissions in Amsterdam, The Hague, and Berlin.

Among the reasons Lievens’ later years have been overlooked was that his frequent moves kept him from fitting into historical assessments of the period, which generally focus on the stylistic character of the time. It was not until the mid-20th century that Lievens’ body of work began to be reassessed and a number of important works, wrongly attributed to Rembrandt and other artists, were recognized as being by his hand. Many of these paintings, as well as some recent discoveries, are in the exhibition (cat. 11; cat. 21).

Jan Lievens: Out of Rembrandt’s Shadow is organized by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of northern baroque painting at the National Gallery of Art, in conjunction with Laurie Winters, curator of earlier European art at the Milwaukee Art Museum; Bob van den Boogert and Jaap van der Veen from the Rembrandt House Museum; and Lloyd DeWitt, assistant curator of European paintings before 1900 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wheelock made the final selection of works of art, in close consultation with Stephanie Dickey from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, for the prints; and Gregory Rubinstein, head of old master drawings at Sotheby’s London, for the drawings.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is the national sponsor of the exhibition.The Bradley Foundation

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, where it is on view from October 26, 2008 through January 11, 2009, in association with the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Rembrandt House Museum, Amsterdam, where it will be seen from May 17 through August 9, 2009.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 308-page catalogue by exhibition curator Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered. Produced by the National Gallery of Art and published in association with Yale University Press, beginning October 28 it is available at the Museum Store
(hardcover $65/$58.50 Members; softcover $45/$40.50) and online at www.mam.org/store.

Tickets are $12 adults, $10 students/seniors, and free for Museum Members, children 12 & under, and active military. The ticket includes general Museum admission to the Collection galleries.  Group tour reservations and discounts are also available; please call 414-224-3842.  To become a Museum member and receive year-round benefits such as free all-access admission, call 414-224-3284.

Wednesday, February 4, 12–2 p.m.
The event includes a private tour followed by light appetizers and beverages with opportunities for Q&A.  

with Curator Laurie Winters
Tuesdays, February 10 & 24 and April 14
1:30 pm
Free with exhibition admission
An insightful look at the works in the exhibition.

with Rev. Steven Peay
Tuesdays, March 31 and April 7
1:30 pm
Free with exhibition admission
An exploration of the religious themes in the exhibition.

with Curator Laurie Winters
Thursdays, February 12–April 23
12 Noon
Free with exhibition admission
Each week, learn more about three works in thirty minutes.

Vermeer’s Hat: The Global Context of Dutch Art
Thursday, February 26
6:15 pm
Free with general admission
Timothy Brook, principal at St. John’s College and professor of Chinese history at the University of British Columbia, will discuss his best-selling book, Vermeer’s Hat.

Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt/Lievens
Thursday, March 19
6:15 pm
Free with general admission
Walter Liedtke, Curator of Northern Baroque Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will talk about the relationship between Rembrandt and Jan Lievens.

Sunday, April 5
2:00 pm
Free with general admission
Historian Mike Dash will discuss his best-selling book Tulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused.

The Joys of Collecting
Sunday, April 26
1:30 pm
Free with general admission
Alfred Bader is a renowned private Milwaukee collector of Dutch art, including works by Jan Lievens.

Saturdays, 10:30 am
Free with general admission
February 14: The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe
March 14: Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World by Timothy Brook
April 4: Tulipomania by Mike Dash
All books available in the Museum Store: 414-224-3210 / www.mam.org/store

MAM After Dark: Jan Lievens on a Jet Plane
Friday, February 20
5 p.m.–Midnight
$10/free for Members
For the sixth festive collaboration between the Milwaukee Art Museum and local arts organization Cedar Block, a group of Milwaukee’s best and brightest artists bring an Old Master into the modern age.

Target Family Sundays: Peg Legs, Patches, and Pirates
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Noon–4 p.m.
Milwaukee Art Museum
Free with Museum admission

Art in Bloom
Thursday–Sunday, April 2–5
Discover more than forty exquisite arrangements by Milwaukee’s top floral designers inspired by works of art in the Museum’s Collection galleries. Inform your own green thumb in lectures, workshops, and demonstrations on gardening, floral arranging, and environmentally friendly practices with celebrity floral designers and master gardeners.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s far-reaching holdings include more than 20,000 works spanning antiquity to the present day. With a history dating back to 1888, the Museum houses a Collection with strengths in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, American decorative arts, and folk and self-taught art. The Museum includes the Santiago Calatrava–designed Quadracci Pavilion, named by Time magazine “Best Design of 2001.”

Digital images available upon request.

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