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Ackland displays Rembrandt drawings to commemorate his death

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Drawing made by Rembrandt that will on display in the Ackland. Photo courtesy of Ariel Fielding.

In honor of the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death, the Ackland Art Museum will be running an exhibition displaying his drawings.  

The exhibition will run from Oct. 4 to 20 and seven Ackland-owned drawings will be on display. 

The Ackland received these drawings in 2017 as a gift from the Peck Collection. 

“It’s a rare opportunity to see drawings by Rembrandt on view of this quantity,” said Dana Cowen, the Sheldon Peck curator for European and American art before 1950. “We are the only public university art museum in the nation to own a collection of Rembrandt’s drawings, so you get a good sense of his style.” 

Robert Fucci, a Peck Collection research fellow, said that while Rembrandt had humble beginnings, he is an artist that transcends time. 

“In terms of his place in history, he has never fallen out of favor,” Fucci said. “He’s always been famous as an artist from his lifetime to the present, and he’s therefore had a really tremendous impact on other artists throughout history as well. That’s one of the really fascinating things about his position, he’s always been a crowd-pleaser."

Rembrandt was the son of a miller, but after moving to Amsterdam to draw portraits, his popularity boomed, Cowen said. 

“He became well-known, not just in the Netherlands, but literally all over Europe as someone who was unbelievably expressive in finding and recording, visually, the truths of nature and of human emotion,” said Sheldon Peck, clinical professor of Orthodontics at the UNC's Adams School of Dentistry.

In 2017, Peck and his late wife, Leena, donated multiple Dutch and Flemish drawings, including the Rembrandt drawings, to the Ackland. 

Studies of a smoker and group of card players, made by Rembrandt. Photo courtesy of Ariel Fielding.

“To this day, his art transcends all cultures, all peoples, so that people in China can look at a Rembrandt painting and see the brilliance of his observations as much as the people in the Research Triangle,” Peck said.

Although Rembrandt’s drawings are simple, the stories they tell are extensive, Cowen said. 

“You can formulate an entire story in your mind from just one figure, and that’s not always the case with other artists,” Cowen said. “Rembrandt is so evocative, and it’ll be so great to see them all together on the same wall, working with each other, complementing each other and seeing the different ways Rembrandt can evoke stories and humanity that we can all relate to.” 

Although Rembrandt produced paintings, etchings and drawings, the Ackland drawings let viewers look at Rembrandt closer, Peck said. 

“Drawings are the most intimate of arts for any artists, and in the 17th century, drawings were performed really for the enlightenment of the artist, so you see his first thoughts and initial impressions,” Peck said. “If Rembrandt saw somebody with an unusual hat on in the street, he would make a sketch of that person, and just keep it in his repertoire; that was his photo file.” 

By displaying these drawings, attendees of the event see Rembrandt as they never have before, Fucci said.

“What we see is not just a great artist being a great artist, but an artist working unselfconsciously,” Fucci said. “We’re witnessing him, kind of looking over his shoulder, as he’s thinking on paper, and that’s always very special. That’s what makes old master drawings very special, but especially Rembrandt. You get a glance into his process, and into his mind and spirit.” 

Peck said Rembrandt’s drawings help the viewer see how to distinguish reality from fiction. 

“Rembrandt’s object in his art and his life was to search for the truth of nature and the truths of human emotion,” Peck said. “What I find observing society today is that most people, especially young people, don’t even know the difference between truth and fiction. Rembrandt, I think, will inform the uninformed eyes as to what is truly meaningful in life on this planet, and in human relations and nature.” 

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Fucci said the museum intends to display a major exhibition of the works in this gift in September 2021. 

Peck said Rembrandt is an artist he will never tire of, which is why he encourages others to attend the exhibition. 

“When you have a world-class artist who transcends all parochial interests and international interests, everything about him I love,” Peck said. “I could have the Rembrandt faucet turned on full-blast all day.”