May 16, 2009 in Figurative Art
In my previous post, called Museum visists, I was musing about Frans Hals’ great work “The Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House”. I couldn’t find any info on this painting online, so I went to a library to get some non-virtual (as seen from a web-addict’s point of view) information. I got a large, bulky book on Hals in which there is no mention of the painting.
Time to say DUH!
Then I saw a black&white pic of a painting that was quite similar to the painting I saw in the Frans Hals museum. It was painted by Johannes Verspronck. I already knew Johannes from my recent visit to Hals. I saw his portrait of a priest whose name I don’t remember. I have no beef with priests, but this particular individual served as a model for a portrait that’s the most scary artwork I’ve ever seen. Verspronk renders the man as a dark, shrewd and eminently political figure.
A similar effect, although far less ominous and menacing than in the before-mentioned portrait, can been seen in the image on the left. The reason why Verspronck is so much less famous than Hals becomes obvious. While Hals was a dreadful flatterer (meaning he did his utmost to make his portraits in such a way that the model would feel flattered), Verspronck was a ruthless portraitist of truth, the most ruthless I have seen. I have no idea what kind of man Verspronck was. Actually one of his paintings is very famous.
It’s the one below, a very expressive and brilliant portrait that is hardly unsettling. I knew the painting, but had never heard of Verspronck. Shame on me or on the art experts that undervalue Verspronck. The thing is, as a psychological portraitist Verspronck was better (still) than Rembrandt and as good as Leonardo da Vinci. While Leonardo was ruthless in rendering the indifference and superficiality of people, he still seemed to be quite cheery about their character. But Verspronck showed every niche in human nature, good and bad.
The painting below shows Verspronck’s enormous talent, such a sublte and gripping portrait it is.
I have to assume “The Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House” was painted by Verspronck (but I’m still not sure, but will when the Hals museum opens tomorrow). Whoever made it, it’s one of the most beautiful and brilliant paintings I’ve seen so far.
Last week I visited the Rijksmuseum, as said, where I saw The Nightwatch. Pretty nifty painting, but in essence a failed composition. In his successful works Rembrandt was able to produce a very tight composition in which every element interacts with another in a deliberate way. The Nightwatch was simply too large for that, because the larger, the more elements that need to be combined and at some point even Rembrandt will lose it, while he had a seemingly supernatural sense of composition. In the Nightwatch the central two figures have been painted precisely, the rest loosely, not because they don’t play an important role in the painting, but because Rembrandt couldn’t push the composition any further and had to leave the greater part of it less than well-defined. You can see how well he had thought out the composition, by the way the people on it are arranged with respect to eachother, but if the drawing would have been a composition that “added up”, then the painting would have been as inspiring as his best works, which it isn’t.
The Regentesses is not as large and ambitious as the Nightwatch, but still very sizable. It’s larger actually than The Sampling Officials by Rembrandt, which is said to be Rembrandt’s best work. It’s a beautiful painting, but not nearly as spontaneous as what you’d expect from a Rembrandt. This too is an example of a painting that’s too large to fully permit Rembrandt’s style. What Rembrandt wanted to do was to overwhelme the onlooker by means of a highly emotional and intense picture. Then he would have to concentrate all his pictorial ability on the part of the painting that catches the eye. In the Nightwatch and Sampling Officials there are just too many other things going on and one audaciously wonders if Rembrandt had a concept for that: how to relate an active, but secondary background to the main subject. Certainly in the Nightwatch the “Rembrandt magic” simply isn’t there. It seems to me that given his desire to be intense, a canvas size as that of The Jewish Bride was a far as Rembrandt should go, and without portraying more than two people in one painting.
The maker of the Regentesses was a very different kind of painter. Rather than the focussed intensity of Rembrandt the emphasis lies on the composition’s overall balance, which the artist achieved. The painting represents an enormous amount of dedication and while the artist could not match Rembrandt’s compositional computing power (no-one can) the painting’s concept is so well thought out that the composition is complete, while unforced. The faces are a bit overworked, but the painting combines compositional balance with a very fine poetic touch. This combined with the remarkable light effects (as mentioned in previous post) makes it in my opinion the best group portrait ever (but who know how many more surprises are out there?).
What the artist did was to eliminate all unnecessary details and keep the painting simple in color, a light-brown (yellow ocre?) dominates. That way he could limit the complexity of the composition.
Okay, while I’m writing this post I’m doing some additional research leading to a pic of the painting I’m making such a bl**dy fuss about. It’s a bad pic, in b/w, but at least now I’m sure Verspronck is our guy.
I’ve added his Regentesses of the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, which is just like the Holy Spirit painting, minus one, so that you can see how beautifully Verspronck could paint.
“What a fuss over a bunch of nuns”, would be the understandable reaction, but on this blog it’s all about painting, not the subject per se. Apparently Verspronck had positive feelings towards these women and portrayed them kindly.