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Rembrandt's Light review

Art Dulwich Picture Gallery , Dulwich Until Sunday February 2 2020
4 out of 5 stars
Rembrandt's Light review
Philemon and Baucis, 1658, oil on panel transferred to panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

If you’ve ever had the traumatising experience of seeing yourself illuminated in the bright white glare of shop lights, you’ll know the importance of good lighting design. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) knew this as well, but he didn’t just cast his subjects in a flattering light, he made the soft, yellow-tinted beams slicing through bitter darkness the centrepiece, maybe even the point, of his art.

Dulwich Picture Gallery shows this in two ways: one, by exhibiting 35 of the Dutch master’s drawings, etchings and paintings. Two, by getting cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (who previously worked on ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’) to design the exhibition’s lighting system à la Rembrandt.

The first room plunges visitors into the classic sooty blackness of a Rembrandt oil painting, making the second room, a puddle of warm sunlight in tribute to the artist’s well-lit studios, something of a shock. The others descend back into goth mode, dark cosy caves emphasising the luminescence in the artworks. At the centre, the gallery’s mausoleum (yes, it has one) is filled with ‘Buffy’-esque candles, with velvet cushions strewn on the stone benches.

It’s beautiful. It’s calming. It works as a curatorial concept. But most importantly, the pictures are genuinely worth seeing. Yeah, Dulwich haven’t got access to the biggest and bestest Rembrandts – they’re all in the Rilksmuseum’s amusingly-named ‘All the Rembrandts’ exhibition, funnily enough. And yeah, there are some not-so-interesting ‘School Of…’ images on display.

But the thing with Rembrandt is that when he’s great, he’s so great that even one great Rembrandt would be worth the price of an exhibition ticket and a train ride anywhere (even to Dulwich). Here, one of those pictures is ‘A Woman Bathing in a Stream’, a sexy, quiet image of a woman raising her white chemise to wade into shallow, clear water. The woman is assumed to be Hendrickje Stoffels, mother to one of Rembrandt’s kids, and he paints her as literally radiant, the only thing worth looking at among the gloom. With or without good lighting, isn’t that how everyone wants to be seen?

By: Rosemary Waugh


Venue name: Dulwich Picture Gallery
Venue website:
Venue phone: 020 8693 5254
Address: Gallery Rd
SE21 7AD
Transport: Rail: West Dulwich
Price: £15, concs available

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