Gagosian Has Borrowed a Self-Portrait By Rembrandt for a Face-Off With His Roster of Artists
The controversial loan of the Old Master from a public collection to a selling show has raised eyebrows.
A commercial white-cube space in London is an unlikely spot to show a Rembrandt, but when you’re Larry Gagosian anything is possible. Rembrandt van Rijn’s late masterpiece Self-portrait with Two Circles (around 1665) is on show at Gagosian’s Grosvenor Hill gallery through May 18 thanks to a partnership with an entrepreneurial new charity that now manages many of England’s most historic properties.
The self-portrait of the Dutch Golden Age painter usually hangs in Kenwood House, a stately home in Hampstead, London, that was left to the British nation by a member of the Guinness brewing dynasty. That is, it hangs in the historic house when it is not touring museums. In recent years it has been a star loan in exhibitions in US museums in Houston, Milwaukee, Seattle, and Arkansas, as well as at London’s National Gallery, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
For now, however, it is included in a commercial exhibition titled “Visions of the Self: Rembrandt and Now,” where it hangs alongside work by contemporary artists on the Gagosian roster.
You have to go deep into the gallery to find the Rembrandt, which is flanked (at a respectable distance) by small self-portraits by Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud. Nearby are self-portraits by Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe. Elsewhere in the gallery you can find Jeff Koons’s copy of another Rembrandt self-portrait, complete with gazing ball, and a new work by Jenny Saville, which was directly inspired by the Rembrandt’s painting. Last year, a $12.4 million sale at Sotheby’s made Saville the most expensive living female artist.
When the Rembrandt loan was announced, art critic Roberta Smith tweeted that it was “obscene.” The theatrical exhibition earned just three stars from the Guardian’s critic Adrian Searle. He was quick to point out the redundancy of some of the other works in the presence of the Dutch Golden Age masterpiece. “With his tawdry, threadbare magnificence, Rembrandt upstages everyone, and there’s quite a crowd,” Searle writes.
Gagosian has borrowed the Rembrandt from English Heritage, which also looks after Stonehenge and some 400 other historic sites, in exchange for supporting it in fundraising and promoting Kenwood House and its exhibitions. Although Gagosian maintains that it’s not a “financial partnership,” the gallery has agreed to restore the work’s 18th century frame on its own dime, estimated to cost around £30,000 ($39,000) according to the Financial Times.
The future of the Gagosian-English Heritage partnership is still “in planning” stages, Anna Eavis, the curatorial director at English Heritage, told artnet News, although a statement from the gallery explains it will involve “a number of curatorial and fundraising initiatives.”
The new charity, which was formerly a government agency, is supposed to become financially self-sufficient by 2023. An English Heritage spokesperson told the FT it is “on target” to replace its public funding (which is around $17.6 million in 2018-2019) by upping its visitor numbers and increasing subscriptions to its membership scheme. Energetic fundraising and sponsorship will also be vital.
English Heritage cares for a stellar art collection. In Kenwood alone there are 63 paintings, including the Rembrandt, a Vermeer, as well as work by Gainsborough, and Singer-Sargent, all bequeathed along with the house to the British nation in 1927 by a member of the Guinness brewing dynasty. Edward Cecil Guinness, the Earl of Iveagh, who was the richest man in Ireland, was a customer of the famous art dealer Joseph Duveen.
Eavis was tight-lipped about possible future exchanges between Kenwood and Gagosian. “There are all sorts of things one could do,” Eavis said when asked what her dream exhibition might be. “The earl collected 18th-century paintings of gorgeous women, including a wonderful painting by Singer-Sargent of an American heiress, and the collection includes work by Joshua Reynolds, George Romney, and Thomas Gainsborough.”
In the fall, Kenwood House will host a Rembrandt exhibition marking 350 years since his death.
“Visions of the Self: Rembrandt and Now” is on view April 12 through May 18 at Gagosian, 20 Grosvenor Hill, London.
See more photos of the exhibition below.
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