In the summer of 2005, George Rodrigue and I visited Amsterdam. Rembrandt’s house was recently opened to the public. Because he declared bankruptcy, a detailed list exists of his 1656 belongings, enabling today’s historians to replace every furnishing, fossil, and vase from his vast collections.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was an art rock star, both during his lifetime and since. Without gallery representation, he sold his work from a gallery inside his home (just as George did for years), ushering potential buyers into a side room, where they chose from his latest paintings, hung salon-style, stacked to high ceilings.
-click photos to enlarge-
Rembrandt lived well, even lavishly, in a situation as rare at that time as it is today – a financially successful artist; and, in a less surprising scenario, an artist living beyond his means.
Touring his home felt like prying and honoring, similar to a tour of Graceland. For George and me, homage and curiosity won out over snooping as, at our guide’s insistence, George created an etching from a copper plate on Rembrandt’s printing press.
I watched the face of this great 21st century artist as he operated the press and then, almost beyond belief, sat at the great 17th century artist’s easel. He laughed nervously, but fully, his distinct features more pronounced than ever, helplessly khee-hee-hee-ing, a sound as associated by his friends with George as it is by cartoon-lovers with Snagglepuss.
We lost our camera on that trip, but perhaps my memory is the better record, as I recall George star struck over an artist more than three hundred years dead.
George Rodrigue’s face reflects a Cajun’s and artist’s ethos. It’s memorable, with exaggerated features. His pronounced cheeks protrude, and his deep set green eyes watch intently without widening. His nose, chin, mouth and forehead have what most people call “character,” defined by hard lines, not to be confused with wrinkles, forming shapes on his face similar to the strong shapes on his canvas.
(pictured, George Rodrigue with his portrait by New Orleans artist David Harouni, 2012; learn more here-)
Rembrandt also had a distinctive face. We know this because of his self-portraits, nearly one hundred in all, including paintings, etchings, and drawings. They chronicle his changes in visage and maturity, while also reflecting his deep understanding of his creative calling.
As George sat at Rembrandt’s easel, I sat across the room at Rembrandt’s apprentice’s table. Using a mortar and pestle, I ground the colored rocks into powder, adding linseed oil to make paste and, finally, paint, connecting me also to the past, so that I shared in George’s moment.
-for a related post, see “Blue Fall in Louisiana,” linked here–
-for the latest reviews of The Other Side of the Painting, a new Rodrigue book, click here–
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