Who is Jan Lievens?
11 November 2009 2,175 views No Comment
[caption id="attachment_1032" align="alignright" width="198" caption="Self portrait of Jan Lievens c. 1629"][/caption]By Inglis Carre’-Dellard I am looking at a picture of a sumptuous painting portraying an episode of the biblical story of Esther. The Feast of Esther, painted c. 1625, has always been attributed to Rembrandt in art texts, and was last sold in 1952 as a Rembrandt. It is just one of many works that have now been discovered to have been painted by Jan Lievens. The confusion is understandable, considering that Rembrandt and Lievens were contemporaries, born 15 months apart in the same town in western Holland. They apprenticed to the same painting master, Pieter Lastman, at a young age. They shared models, art supplies, and possibly a studio. They even modeled for each other. Their early work is almost impossible for experts to tell apart, even though they admit that Lievens’ paint handling shows more liveliness and physicality than Rembrandt’s, and there are some who think that Rembrandt learned this from him. The most interesting part of the story happens after the two boys leave the studio of Lastman to begin their own careers as artists, in their home town. After a time, Lievens traveled to London, while Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, where he spent his life. After London, Lievens goes from place to place, Amsterdam, The Hague, Leiden (his home town), and Antwerp. He does commissions for statesmen and kings, absorbing new artistic influences as he goes, adapting to changes in public tastes and changing to please his patrons. He keeps up with the prevailing winds of the international art scene. His paintings continued to be brilliant and fashionable, but his personal style became less individual, somewhat more shallow. Rembrandt, who stayed in one place and developed his own vision in comparative isolation, relied on selling prints as a major source of income while he refined his painterly expression of the human form by finer and finer nuances of light and shadow. Mood, character, religious meaning, and the effects of time and tragedy on the human face were all expressed by his tender and sensitive manipulation of light. As his art became ever more personal and distinctive, his contemporaries often found it unacceptable. Many felt his work was tasteless and too concerned with ugliness. The end of their lives found these two old friends and rivals living along the same Amsterdam canal, the Rozengracht, in poverty and debt. Neither of them knew that history would elevate one of them while the other would drop into obscurity. This is surely a lesson for all of us to learn from: which artist do you wish to be more like? “Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered” opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. last fall. For more information on Jan Lievens, read the article entitled Out of Rembrandt’s Shadow in the March 2009 issue of Smithsonian magazine. Inglis Carre’-Dellard, M.F.A. is a Los Osos artist and teacher whose teaching style emphasizes individuality and self expression in a nurturing environment. For more information on individual coaching or creative process classes, contact her at email@example.com or (805)534-9693.