The man could paint…nuff said. Of all the artists that I’ve ever studied, investigated, or witnessed, no other comes close to Rembrandt. He not only understood his tools at a completely visceral level, but he was able through his penetrating eye and his innate abilities of psychology to demonstratively get at who the sitter was…or wanted to be. So much has been said about Rembrandt from many artists and historians, but when you witness his paintings especially his self-portraits, you gain access to a conversation.

The thing about a portrait is that you aren’t doing it in a bubble or creating it in a vacuum. It has been said of Sargent, “When you visit Sargent’s studio you take your face, not your life, in your hands.” An artist notices every wrinkle, every droop, every hair missing or turning gray. An artist witness where your eye goes when you are thinking, and where your soul goes when it decides. And, all the while the artist is engaging in conversation with the subject. It is very intimate as well, because you are asking this person to expose their soul for you–and inadvertently–you for them. A camera captures your likeness, but a painting bares and bears your soul. Like the Charon on the river Styx, you carry the essence of person from one side to the other. Is any artist worthy of that task? Rembrandt came close.

But, it is the self-portrait that is the most illuminating and cathartic. As an artist you must examine yourself. You notice your own foibles, wrinkles, and deficiencies. You must come to grips with who and where you are in THIS stage of your life- not of who you wish to be, or who you pretend to be, but of who you are! And, you must do it with this very primitive little contrivance= a bunch of hairs on the end of a stick with some dirt and oil.

When do you do a self-portrait? Rembrandt did them when he was on the top and the world and it was celebrating him…and he did it at the bottom when his wife had died, when his children had died, when he was suffering from the gout, and when he was destitute and bankrupt. A self-portrait marked them all.

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