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Ulster Museum acquires six etchings by Rembrandt

The Ulster Museum has acquired 6 etchings by celebrated artist Rembrandt. Two of the etchings will go on display at the Ulster Museum from December 2019

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An extra special Christmas present of six etchings, dating from the c.1630s-50s, by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669) and acquired for the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme have been gifted to National Museums NI. These are the first works by Rembrandt to enter a public collection in Northern Ireland.

To celebrate this extraordinary gift, and to give the public a first sight of the Rembrandt etchings, the Ulster Museum will be displaying two of the etchings; Six’s Bridge and The Adoration of the Shepherds in the current Masterpieces of Dutch Landscapes Painting exhibition from Tuesday 17 December – just in time for Christmas and during the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death.

Kathryn Thomson, Chief Executive of National Museums NI, says the gift is transformational.

“This gift immeasurably transforms the Ulster Museum collection, as these are the first works by Rembrandt to enter a public collection in Northern Ireland. We are very grateful to Arts Council for this allocation from the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme.”

She added: “We are so excited for the opportunity for our visitors, from here and further afield, to see the work of one of the world’s most celebrated artists in Belfast. We are already planning to have all six etchings displayed in a forthcoming exhibition at the Ulster Museum dedicated to Rembrandt and his influence on printmaking.”

Rembrandt (1606–1669) is perhaps the best-loved and most admired painter of the seventeenth century. Born in Leiden, he spent much of his life in Amsterdam, where he dazzled audiences with his ambitious biblical scenes, history paintings and portraits. Rembrandt made drawings and prints throughout his career, often using the process of mark-making to explore his ideas about light and shade, landscape and the depiction of emotion and character.

Rembrandt, arguably the most important artist to work in the medium, was famous in his lifetime for his etchings, his reputation resting on this more than his paintings. He produced around 300 known etchings, pushing the medium to its extremes.

A tireless experimenter, Rembrandt brought many innovations to the relatively new form of etching. For example, he would leave blank areas in his etchings – unusual at the time – and in doing so created light regions, to contrast denser, dark areas.    

The six etchings include: Bearded man in a furred cap and robe; The Artist’s Mother, seated at a table, looking right; The Sleeping Herdsman; Six’s Bridge; The Adoration of the Shepherds: with the lamp; and The Descent from the Cross by torchlight.

These examples present a range of subject matter and from a broad period of the artist’s work – from the simpler portrait line etchings of the early 1630’s to the bold rich and painterly ‘Descent from the Cross’ from the 1650’s. Rembrandt’s landscape etchings are relatively scarce and the large landscape depicting ‘Six’s Bridge’ is a particularly fine example of this rare work.

Edward Harley OBE, Chairman, Acceptance in Lieu Panel, said: “I am delighted that these six Rembrandt etchings have been secured for Ulster through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. It is particularly gratifying because up until now Ulster Museum had no works by Rembrandt in its collection.”

UK Government Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan said:  “Rembrandt is one of history's most celebrated artists, and it's fantastic news that, thanks to the Government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme, six of his works will now find a home in Northern Ireland at the Ulster Museum in Belfast for the public to enjoy.”