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Glenn Brown in Rembrandt: After Life

Museum The Rembrandt House in Amsterdam is showcasing a special exhibition. Starting today, you can admire the works of Glenn Brown in Rembrandt: After Life. His art is closely linked to the Dutch Golden Age master, but at the same time have their very own life and identity. 

British contemporary artist Glenn Brown (1966) makes paintings and etchings that, to say the least, are inspired by masters from the past. Brown takes a certain work of an artist as a starting point. He uses an identical face or figure from another art piece. Brown claims that element, so to speak. Then he makes it his own, by creating his own version of it.

This is something the art world calls appropriation. It is not undisputed, but it happens more often than you might realise.

Glenn Brown talks about his work. Here you can see him in front of the work that is the face of the exposition: Poor Art, 2016.

After Life

Brown has always been inspired by other masters. In describing and explaining his work that is on display in Rembrandt: After Life, he frequently mentions the likes of Picasso and Fragonard.

And yes, obviously Rembrandt has had an impact on his art. In his own words:

“Rembrandt is very important, fundamental, to my work.”

How can you see this in the exposition?

Rembrandt: After Life
Studio Rembrandt, A Boy in Fanciful Constume, c. 1633. Oil on panel, 21 x 17,7 cm. London, The Wallace Collection. 

Take the work you see above, for instance. One might call it ironic that it now qualifies as being made in the studio of Rembrandt, but for a long time it was attributed to Rembrandt himself. During that period, Brown made his first, own version of this work of art. This was in 1996. In 2001, he made another one. It is called Joseph Beuys. 

Rembrandt: After Life
Glenn Brown, Joseph Beuys, 2001. Oil on panel, 96 x 79,5 cm. Private collection.

This is textbook appropriation. The original work by Studio Rembrandt is still very much recognisable. Yet this work is a piece of art in its own right. A newly created original, with an own identity. After Life is therefore quite an appropriate title for this exhibition that is filled with more examples of this.

Flat surfaces

One of the most striking elements of Brown’s works is the flatness of them. If you look at the paintings from a distance, you would expect thick layers of paint or at least some form of paints daubs on the panels. Like Rembrandt. But when you come closer, you are in for a surprise.

But when you come closer, this is not the case. The surfaces are surprisingly smooth. Brown uses very little paint. So, the richness of the work is merely created by the movement of the delicate brushes Brown uses. A real testimony to the craftsmanship of the artist.


Rembrandt: After Life
I would expect thick layers and clots of paint. Not true. Glenn Brown, Shallow End, 2011. Oil on panel, 128 x 96 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Spoonful of Art.

Lovers and haters

Like with many artists there will be lovers or haters of this exhibition. Some people feel very strongly about not touching original masterpieces from the past. To others, a new version might be just the thing they need to review the wealth and worth of those masterworks.

I tend to agree with the second group. Don’t they work well, together? One reflects on the other, giving the original new meaning and context. Which, after a couple of hundred years, might be considered a compliment.

More importantly, appropriation is not a new thing. Artists have been doing it forever, copying from other masters. Rembrandt himself, included. Brown is very explicit, yes, but I find this refreshingly honest if anything.

How do you feel about this subject? You have until 23 April 2017 to go and form your own opinion at the Rembrandt House Museum.

Do let me know what you think.

Glenn Brown – Rembrandt: After Life. 27 January to 23 April 2017. The  Rembrandt House Museum, Amsterdam. 

You can also admire etchings of Brown. This one is made with new techniques, like drawing on an i-Pad.Glenn Brown, Half-Life 6, 2016. Etching, 42 x 29,7 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Spoonful of Art.
Glenn Brown, After Life, 2009. Oil on panel, 138 x 114 cm. Private collection. Photo: Spoonful of Art.

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