National Gallery aims for next blockbuster with Rembrandt

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The Independent Online
CLAUDE MONET and Jackson Pollock have both demonstrated their capacity to pull in huge crowds. Now the National Gallery is hoping that a unique collection of Rembrandt self-portraits, which goes on show there next week, will be the summer's blockbuster art exhibition.

The 17th-century Dutch master has largely escaped the hype that preceded the Monet exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts and Pollock at the London Tate Gallery. But art critics have already united in praising the show, which opens next Wednesday.

Rembrandt was a prolific painter of his own image, and the National Gallery has assembled dozens of paintings, drawings and etchings that record the evolution of his career. In his own lifetime, the works were scattered around the world; sold or given as gifts, or lent to his students. They were gathered from private and public collections in Europe and America.

The National Gallery, whose Ingres exhibition was another of the winter's successful shows, is hoping that Rembrandt By Himself will prove a crowd- pleaser.

A total of 813,000 people saw Monet in the Twentieth Century during its 12-week run, making it the country's most popular art show. So great was demand that the Royal Academy opened its doors for an unprecedented all- night session the day before it ended in April.

The Pollock retrospective, which closes on Sunday, has also been a big money-spinner, thanks both to ticket sales - it has attracted an average of 2,000 visitors a day - and to the associated merchandise such as T- shirts, posters and mugs.

Although Rembrandt will move to The Hague in September - to the Mauritshuis gallery, which has organised the show with the National Gallery - numbers here are expected to be swelled by Dutch art lovers reluctant to wait.

About 20,000 French tourists saw Monet in London, with half of the tickets sold in France, although a major exhibition of his water lily paintings has now opened in Paris.

Rembrandt painted himself at least once a year, and the show - 30 paintings, eight drawings and 29 etchings - traces his progress from youthful insecurity through successful and self-confident middle age to painful confrontation with his own age-ravaged features.

The centrepiece is a painting from the mid-1660s that hangs in Kenwood House, north London, and is regarded as one of the most remarkable self- portraits of all time.

After the death of Rembrandt's wife, Saskia, in 1642, the number of self- portraits declined sharply. Those that he painted in that era were more sober and less elaborate than their predecessors.

The impending exhibition includes paintings by Rembrandt's pupils, some of which were once wrongly attributed to the master himself.

The self-portraits have been lent by collections including the National Museum in Stockholm and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.