December 29, 2005

Rembrandt to draw the masses in anniversary year

By Alexandra Hudson

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - An aging Rembrandt gazes out over the
city where he made his name and lost a fortune from a billboard
on a 17th century church wall.

The Dutch painter's prominence in the heart of Amsterdam's
picturesque canal district, a stone's throw from his last home
and unmarked grave, heralds next year's celebrations to mark
the 400th anniversary of his birth.

The Netherlands hopes to attract at least 250,000 extra
visitors with exhibitions of Rembrandt's finest paintings,
walking tours of his favorite haunts and two newly composed
musicals -- one on his love life, the other on his unique
creative drive.

"We're lucky to have such a famous figure, and of course
we're very proud," said Rien van den Anker of the Dutch tourism

"Such anniversaries are very popular. Plus knowing
Rembrandt is a Dutch painter and it is the 400th anniversary of
his birth, museums have been more willing to lend us his great

Rembrandt's pensive expression and rounded features are
familiar to art-lovers the world over.

The artist painted almost 100 self-portraits in the 63
years of his life, and they, like his depictions of the rich
and poor around him, are famed for their sensitivity and
theatrical use of light and shade.

"He is so admired for his closeness to his models -- the
way he captured the psychology of his sitters," said Christiaan
Vogelar, curator of the show which kicks off the Rembrandt year
in his home town of Leiden.

This feat put the Dutch master years ahead of his time, and
the vitality and expression of figures such as the
ruddy-cheeked "Jewish bride" makes viewers warm to them
centuries later.


Dream away the cars and the bikes, and visitors to
Amsterdam and Leiden will find the leaning houses, cobbled
lanes and hump-back bridges little changed from Rembrandt's

This has prompted a simmering rivalry between the towns as
they lay claim to the world-famous painter and etcher.

Little Leiden hopes Rembrandt will do for it what Dutch
peer Johannes Vermeer did for Delft.

"If you don't have a painter of some name in your town then
you have a problem," admits Bart in 't Veld of the Leiden
tourism board.

Local traders are planning Rembrandt merchandise, while
restaurants consider dishes to which they can append the
artist's name -- steak Rembrandt or Rembrandt van Rijn caramel.

The son of a miller, Rembrandt was born in Leiden in 1606
and stayed in the town until 1631. A stubborn youth, he managed
to convince his parents he was serious about painting and was
apprenticed to a local artist.

His birth house no longer stands, a victim of previous
rivalry between Amsterdam and Leiden, at the time of
Rembrandt's 300th anniversary.

Cash-strapped Leiden, angered at having been passed over in
favor of Amsterdam for the official celebrations, felt little
inclined to spend the huge sums required to save the
dilapidated house, and received no help from the capital which
had Rembrandt houses of its own.

But a charming old windmill much like the one where the
Rembrandt family lived still stands close to the spot.


Young Rembrandt was attracted by the bright lights and
worldly flair of Amsterdam, then at the height of its maritime
and trading power.

He married his beloved Saskia in 1634, the great-niece of
an art dealer and moved to one of the city's most fashionable
districts, as commissions poured in.

But money slipped through his fingers, as Rembrandt
indulged himself with pricey collectibles and objets d'art. He
was declared bankrupt in 1656 and forced to move to a smaller

Tragedy struck frequently -- three of his four children
died shortly after birth -- and Saskia died in 1642.

Rembrandt may not have slashed off his ear or been subject
to the mental tortures of the Netherlands' other most famous
painter, Vincent van Gogh, but makers of "Rembrandt: The
Musical," believe his life and loves offer entertaining drama.

"He had an eventful time with the three women in his life,
and he also experienced great tragedy," said Chermain Pubben of
Stardust, the firm responsible for the show.

"This personal side of him is hardly known."

After his wife's death, Rembrandt had an affair with his
son's nurse Geertje, who ended up trying to sue him for failing
to marry her. Then he enjoyed the affections of the
much-younger Hendrickje, a former maid-servant.

But Rembrandt outlived them all, to die the sorrowful old
man of the haunting last self-portraits.