Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Milwaukee Art Museum: Jan Lievens

On Thursday, March 19, we took time to go to the Milwaukee Art Museum
for their current main show, "Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered".
Lievens was a contemporary of Rembrandt, and, although every bit
Rembrandt's equal (if not better), in skill, inspiration, and
innovation, has lapsed into undeserved obscurity. This is the first
major travelling show of Lievens' work and does much to rectify this
historical injustice.

Lievens' career paralleled Rembrandt's for much of their lives. They
were born in the same city (Leiden), worked together at times, painted
one another (there are two paintings of Van Rijn in the exhibit, one a
portrait and one as a model in a group painting), and move around to the
same places where work for artists was being offered.

The exhibit of forty-five pieces includes portraits, religious and civic
works, drawings and wood cuts. I was very impressed with the skill of
the painting and vibrancy of both color and expression. (I wonder if the
fact that these works have been less exhibited means that they have had
less chance to accumulate dirt and grime that seems to make a number of
frequently seen Rembrandts and other Dutch Masters seem dark?) Lievens
has some very interesting stylistic themes: he was very good at, and
seemed to enjoy painting metalwork, crinkly old books, and men with
bushy beards. (I had a mental image of the artist chasing beggars and
old men down the street--"Hey! You with the beard! Want to be a model?")

Like most artists of the day, both Lievens and Rembrandt created
compositions on common religious themes, but with sometimes striking
differences. The exhibit allows a comparison of "The Raising of Lazarus"
by each artist. Rembrandt has a dynamically posed Jesus, commanding
Lazarus to arise. By contrast, in Lievens' painting, Jesus stands in the
background humbly praying, eyes raised to heaven, while a beam of light
illuminates Lazarus' pale hand emerging from his shroud at the bottom of
the painting, while the spectators look on in awe. Two very different
portrayals and we had to agree we liked Lievens' better.

The show continues through April 26, and is highly recommended for those
with an interest in classical fine art.

We also caught the last day of an exhibit, "Catesby, Audubon, and the
Discovery of a New World: Prints of the Flora and Fauna of America"
showing examples of the works of the woodcutters, engravers, and
colorists who illustrated the natural history works of Mark Catesby
(1683-1749), one of the first naturalists working in the New World, and
John James Audubon (1785-1851). It was very striking to get a close look
at the wealth of detail and accuracy that can be seen in these works
full-size (Audubon's original bird book was a huge volume with
poster-size pages allowing life-size pictures) and close up.

"Remains, Contemporary Artists and the Material Past," is a small
exhibit by three contemporary artists, with only one interesting piece,
Beth Lipman's monumental sculpture Still Life with Metal Pitcher
presents a dining table covered in some 400 hand-blown vessels, each of
which is a 'transparent rendering of a historic form'. Displayed on an
eight-foot diameter table, it is good fun to walk cautiously around and
try to pick shapes out of the crystalline clutter, which includes
dishes, fish, fruit, birds, and cheese, among other things. There is no
metal pitcher, at least, not one made out of metal. Note: the museum
security in this area is quite aggressive in enforcing a "safe" viewing
distance. Do not step on the black pad around the table! This exhibit
continues through June 7th.
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