The National Gallery, which is currently on strike over privatisation, has reported that 265,000 people visited the Rembrandt: The Late Works exhibition. This makes the show, which opened on 15 October 2014 running for 96 days (closing on 18 January 2015), one of the most popular in National Gallery history.
The landmark show was also one of the Gallery’s most critically acclaimed, with ‘The Times’, ‘The Daily Telegraph’, ‘The Independent’, ‘The Financial Times’, ‘The Guardian’, ‘The Evening Standard’, and ‘The Mail on Sunday’ – to name but a few – all awarding the maximum 5 stars.“This column does not generally hand out stars to rate a show, but if it did, it would give this one 10 stars out of 5”, commented Waldemar Januszczak in ‘The Sunday Times’.
National Gallery Director, Dr Nicholas Penny, said: “No more rewarding purpose can be served by an international loan exhibition than the opportunity to reappraise the entire range of a great artist’s work. But the greater the artist, the harder it is to mount such an exhibition. ‘Rembrandt: The Late Works’ has been an unforgettable experience for thousands of visitors and it has been deeply rewarding for us.”
The “must-see show of the season”** was six years in the planning and the first ever in-depth exploration of Rembrandt’s final years of painting. That period of his life was turbulent and marked with controversy, but it was also when he produced some of his most soulful, deeply moving and strikingly modern works. Through more than 80 famous masterpieces, rare drawings, and prints gathered at the Gallery from around the globe, the exhibition examined the themes that preoccupied Rembrandt as he grew older.
One work in particular appears to have captured the public’s imagination, the drawing of ‘A Young Woman sleeping (Hendrickje Stoffels?)’, about 1654. This 24.6 x 20.3cm work, which can usually be seen at The British Museum, was not only the most purchased individual postcard from the National Gallery shop, but also the most liked and shared image on Facebook as well as the most talked about on Twitter. Dr Nicholas Penny said:
“The drawing has often been likened in its swift and suggestive brushwork to Chinese painting, and we discovered during the course of the exhibition that the drawing is well known in China and much copied by art students there.”
The social media response to the exhibition was also overwhelmingly positive, with total mentions on Twitter at 3,475 and the total number of engagement across all social media at 190,372***.
As part of the National Gallery’s commitment to improve its visitor experience, ticketing is now managed in house, and the public are able to purchase tickets via the Gallery’s website with no booking fee incurred. Visitors to the exhibition also benefited from extended opening hours on Sunday evenings from December 2014, and additional after-hours viewings were staged over the final weekend to attempt to meet the huge public demand.
The other most purchased individual postcards were ‘The Jewish Bride’ (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), ‘Recumbent Lion, facing Right’ (from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – also the most retweeted picture), ‘Self Portrait with two Circles’ (English Heritage, The Iveagh Bequest (Kenwood, London)) and ‘An Old Woman Reading’ (The Buccleuch Collection, Scotland – a sell-out just three weeks after the exhibition opened). One-in-every 17 visitors bought a catalogue.
Cinemas up and down the UK also had a chance on 2 December to see ‘Rembrandt: The Late Works’ on the big screen as part of the second season of EXHIBITION ON SCREEN. Filmed exclusively in high definition, the film features interviews with the show’s curator Betsy Wieseman, and Jonathan Bikker, Curator of Research at the Rijksmuseum. Artist Richard Twose demonstrates Rembrandt’s painting technique whilst Dolores De Sade shows the revolutionary way that Rembrandt worked with the printmaking. Philosopher AC Grayling provides insight into Rembrandt’s self-portraits. The film is released globally in around 40 countries from 17 February 2015.
‘Rembrandt: The Late Works’ is now travelling to the Rijksmuseum, where it can be seen from 12 February to 17 May 2015.
Image: Rembrandt, Portrait of a Couple as Isaac and Rebecca, Rijksmuseum, on loan from the City of Amsterdam © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam