Did Rembrandt struggle to make up his mind? A dazzling new show in Paris lets you see. Rembrandt isn’t the only artist; this amazing set of works includes many Dutch Masters. For almost four centuries, its paintings and the studies for them have been separated.
Now, thanks to loans by more than fifty museums, they’ve been reunited. It’s like a peek into the artists’ studios.
The show is Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt. It’s at the Fondation Custodia which began life in 1947. Although created by the amateur Frits Lugt, only Queen Elizabeth II now has a better drawing collection. The Fondation houses 7,000 Old Master drawings, 30,000 prints and over 200 paintings.
Rembrandt’s mesmerizing St. John Preaching is usually in Berlin. But here it is hanging over their 18th century fireplace, surrounded by the studies he made for it. Some of them are inks, others were done in red chalk; all belong to the Fondation Custodia.
Making them helped Rembrandt cast a drama that bursts with detail. In it a mother hushes her child, anxious that St John will see. Turbanned characters gossip, puppies frolic and listeners run a gamut from boredom to rapture – with a few skeptical faces.
The expertise on show is phenomenal but so is the work ethic. Some of the best drawings are studies for the smallest things like a leg, a dog or a cradle. There are delightful figures with a choice of limbs and my very favourite piece is just a drawing of hands.
The artists in the collection are Dutch, French, Italian and German – names like Leonardo, Dürer, Raphael and Rubens. But the Fondation also has over 40,000 letters, written by artists from Michelangelo to Matisse and Manet.
It’s all managed by Ger Luijten, a veteran of the Rijksmuseum. Luijten wants to stress the foundation is open to everyone. “Their level of expertise doesn’t matter. We want to become the ‘house of drawing’ for all of Paris.”
With this incredible show, they’re well on the way.
• Du dessin au tableau au siècle de Rembrandt (Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt) runs until 7 May 2017
Red china shoes, stuffed boars or a cardboard forest – there’s no telling what you’ll find at the Museum of Hunting and Nature. But it’s worth dropping by, That’s how we discovered the first-ever Nature Book Fair. It was a free event, with author talks, films and workshops all over the building. For one lucky author, there was a €15,000 prize.
At this museum, animal activism means art. Sometimes, it takes the form of special commissions. At others pieces are hidden among vintage relics, paintings and taxidermy. (One topic under discussion: Taxidermy, the Strangest of Fetishes.
Whatever your taste, however, there is plenty to see. Not to mention all the gear for 16th-century falconery, 19th century camping or 18th century shooting parties.
One of my favourite thinkers, Antoine de Baecque, was holding forth about walking. (I listened with a stuffed deer nosing my shoulder). Too many people, according to de Baecque, walk every day “without contemplating the act”. Before walking across the Alps, he himself re-read Rousseau.
If pensive walking wasn’t your thing, there were the rooms dedicated to wolves, boars, owls, dogs and unicorns. Or what we really enjoyed: the guns. They are the most beautiful items I’ve seen in awhile.
The oldest are exquisitely crafted and were possessed by the likes of Louis XIV. They’re shown in a dark room, in cabinets more like jewel-cases. Below each one of them, drawers house powder horns, bullet bags and ancient hunting manuals.
The final treat is always the museum gallery. Its current show, which features George Baselitz and his teachers, looks at why Germans romanticize nature.
Inside this special world, that’s easy to understand.
• The next event at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature is Night of the Bear. It’s free and takes place 8 February and will feature men in bear suits and installations by sound and feather artists – not to mention DJs and hotdogs. Attendees are encouraged to come in costume.