An artistic icon meets an artistic ignoramus

Wronko in front of Rembrandt's Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo. 
Photo: 

I admit I’m no art connoisseur. A week ago if you had said “Rembrandt” to me, I’d probably reply, “Remember what?”

The only artist I can name is Andy Warhol and that’s only because I really like Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. 

In spite of this, I decided to get slightly more cultured and take a trip to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre to see what all the hype for this Rembrandt guy was about.

When I first arrived at the gallery, the first thing that stood out to me wasn’t so much the art on display but how tall the ceilings were.

On a singular wall, there are the three Rembrandt paintings spaced out: Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo, Head of an Old Man in a Cap and Head of a Man in a Turban (Study for a Rabbi?)

Personally, I don’t think the titles are too creative and I’m still unsure if (Study for a Rabbi?) is a question or not.

Staring at the paintings in front of me in the massively empty room for about two minutes, I thought to myself, ‘now what do I do?’

Maybe I should have gone with friends to discuss the painting or maybe I wasn’t asking the right questions when I was looking at the portraits. What if I’m a caricature millennial that can’t interact with anything without a screen? So I looked harder.

Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo is placed dead center in the wall and featured a melancholy man painted in different shades of brown. 

The unknown man, with his arm on his hip, had a face that said, “Am I posing right? Rembrandt, do you like this pose? I’m not sure I do.”

Arms Akimbo was between Head of an Old Man and Head of a Man in a Turban and I think I’m being generous when I say that these two paintings were the size of drink coasters.

Unlike the man with a deer-in-the-headlight look, both the Head of an Old Man and Head of a Man in a Turban were looking off in the distance as if they were filming a new music video for R.E.M’s ‘Everybody Hurts’. Equally as morose as the middling painting, the men in each painting looked miserable. 

I couldn’t find it in me to empathize with the dower men painted because of how unrelatable they seemed.

I found these men moody, but they weren’t taking any action or interacting with what troubled them. They stood in the portraits — stagnant. In my experience, when you’re upset, wallowing does little. The Rembrandt portraits, to me, are of men who’re internalizing their sadness and I was bored by their lack of dynamism. 

If I had to pin an interpretation to these paintings, these men looked as underwhelmed with their existences as I was with the art. 

What was gnawing at them inside? And if there’s an interpretable answer, why should I care?

Probably the only jovial part about these portraits was that the Head of a Man in a Turban (Study for a Rabbi?) had a warm rust colour. Actually, I quite liked the rust colour in the painting, but that was the extent of the warmness. 

Perhaps what was most striking for me were descriptions next to each painting. The small paragraphs broke down the composition of the corresponding painting and commented on its significance. 

The description for Head of an Old Man commented on the importance of his shiny forehead — something that I wouldn’t think twice about.

Now, to me the word ‘Rembrandt’ means a Dutch painter who had a thing for sad men in headwear. I stared at it. 

Nothing the man was wearing related to me and I couldn’t gage what the art was trying to tell me about the man. The textures and dull colours washed over me. 

Nothing grabbed me.

Walking into the Agnes with a genuinely open mind, I feel comfortable saying that I don’t vibe well with the sullen self-importance of a Rembrandt exhibition. But I can also say that I went and saw for myself. 

I didn’t find a sudden connection to static oil portraiture, but I do understand a historical value in Rembrandt’s longevity. I see his art as a snapshot from the 1600s, providing an interesting comparison to our own depictions of people.

But $60 million worth of historical context? Yep. That’s how much Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo is worth. 

Maybe I should invest in some paintbrushes.

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