REMBRANDT REBORN

Tucked away in a dark basement vault, "Portrait of Dirck van Os" hung out of view for years. By 1987, the Joslyn Art Museum had become convinced its prized Rembrandt portrait was not a Rembrandt after all. Stripped of that illustrious standing, the painting eventually lost its place in the gallery. This week, it makes a triumphant return, the latest twist in a centurylong debate over what it means to be a Rembrandt, and who gets to decide.

Portrait of Dirck van Os by Rembrandt

By Casey Logan • World-Herald Staff Writer

Perhaps the greatest defeat of Harold Parsons' life came 20 years after his death.

In 1987, following a century of debate among the world's foremost experts on Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn, the Joslyn Art Museum made a startling decision. It announced that a portrait in the museum's collection since 1942 and attributed to Rembrandt was not a Rembrandt at all.

More likely, it was made by one of his many students. It wasn't fake exactly, but it also wasn't real — at least not as it had been presented to the public for the previous 45 years.

Expert opinion prompted the Joslyn to re-attribute the painting to the "School of Rembrandt," a considerable fall in prestige that reached bottom 12 years later when the museum removed it from display and placed it in storage.

The Joslyn's decision to downgrade the painting drew little attention outside Nebraska, mostly because it wasn't much news. Throughout the world, paintings credited to Rembrandt were being de-attributed to the great 17th century artist.

Two years earlier in Berlin, a Rembrandt masterpiece, "The Man With the Golden Helmet," fell under the same revisionist knife. Not a Rembrandt. In New York, suspicions arose about "The Polish Rider" at the Frick Collection. The fate of the Joslyn painting, "Portrait of Dirck van Os," was a blip on a trend.

Had he still been alive, Harold Woodbury Parsons would have seen it differently. For him, it was personal. Parsons served as the adviser who steered the museum to purchase "Portrait of Dirck van Os" with funds left by its founder, Sarah Joslyn, after her death in 1940. It was his invaluable eye and opinion that led the Joslyn's board president at the time to declare the acquisition "the finest Rembrandt in America."

Parsons was a self-confident class of art historian. In 1941, the Joslyn introduced the New York-based art dealer as its new adviser. Parsons assured those assembled he'd have the museum on pace with the country's finest institutions by decade's end. He backed his bluster, helping acquire some of the Joslyn's most prized works, including its holdings by Titian, El Greco and Jackson Pollock.

The Rembrandt acquisition alone made good on his reputation. The man the Joslyn hired to stock its galleries was more than an art dealer, greater than an art historian, better than an art adviser. Parsons fashioned himself a connoisseur.

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

Newly restored and re-attributed to Rembrandt van Rijn, "Portrait of Dirck van Os" will return to public view in the Joslyn Art Museum's Hitchcock Foundation Gallery on Monday. The painting had been placed in storage 15 years ago. For years it was believed simply to be a work from the "School of Rembrandt," not by the Dutch master himself.


Joslyn photos by Ryan Soderlin

 

• • •

 

This week, "Portrait of Dirck van Os" returns to display a very different painting. Extensive restoration means it will actually look different.

It is also different for reasons that have nothing to do with aesthetics. The portrait is a "Rembrandt" again. It carries one of the most prized attributions in the art world. People respond to it. For museums, a Rembrandt can serve as a magnet that draws visitors, who hopefully then go exploring.

"When a museum has a late Rembrandt, it has something very, very, very special," said the world's leading Rembrandt scholar.

Which is maybe the biggest change of all.

The painting is different because that scholar, a 76-year-old Dutch professor named Ernst van de Wetering, says so.

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

It would be easy to say "Portrait of Dirck van Os" has come full circle, but that is the wrong geometric metaphor. The painting has ridden a wave — up and down, and now up again.

It came to the United States in 1898, when a Rembrandt craze shook hands with the Gilded Age, flooding the art market with new players.

"All of a sudden, we have American millionaires who are trying to fit into the conventional notions of what it means to be a successful member of society," said Catherine Scallen, an art historian at Case Western Reserve University. "And that included owning art."

"Portrait of Dirck van Os" left a private collection in St. Petersburg, Russia, and landed for the next few decades in the collection of Boston businessman Frederick Sears.

Sears had little reason to doubt its authenticity. Each of the leading Rembrandt connoisseurs of the early 20th century — Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, Wilhelm Bode, Wilhelm Valentiner and Abraham Bredius — gave it a passing grade.

It was a busy time for the connoisseurs. Due in part to the rise in demand, more Rembrandts were put up for sale, emerging from private collections throughout Europe. In 1883, Bode listed around 350 Rembrandt paintings in his corpus, or catalog, of the artist's work.

By 1905, he counted 595. The trend reached peak Rembrandt around 1923, when Valentiner attributed more than 700 paintings to the artist.

Scallen wrote about this inflation in her 2003 book "Rembrandt, Reputation and the Practice of Connoisseurship." In researching the subject, she became fascinated by a 1923 polemic written by the art historian John C. Van Dyke, who blasted the Rembrandt connoisseurs for their improbable attributions. Reviews of Van Dyke's book — some written by the same men he targeted — dismissed him as an intrusive crank, and that rebuttal stuck.

Scallen wondered why. Why were some opinions held valid and others laughed off? She found the answer in a single word, the one slipped into the middle of her book's title: reputation.

"Certain people were networked with other people, other Rembrandt connoisseurs," she said, "and through that process they began to validate each other's opinions."

Those opinions held sway for the next 30 years. Then, around 1956, the status quo started to crumble.

In Amsterdam, exhibitions were planned for the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt's birth. A new generation of scholars took a closer look at the chronology of the artist's career and saw a problem: There were too many Rembrandts.

And the justifications for attributing all those works to Rembrandt seemed weak. They were based largely on the instincts of a select few connoisseurs.

"People do have gut responses," Scallen said, "but then you do have to follow that up with a far more cautious process of connoisseurship."

The answer to this dilemma arrived in the form of a committee dubbed the Rembrandt Research Project. Well-funded by the Dutch government, the team of historians had a deceivingly simple mandate: determine which paintings in the style of Rembrandt should be attributed to the man himself.

When the group commenced in 1968, it seemed like a logical effort. Soon the veneer wore off.

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

Rembrandt's "Portrait of Dirck van Os" is removed from storage at the Joslyn Art Museum. From left are preparator Kjell Peterson; Kevin Salzman, installation and design manager; and Toby Jurovics, chief curator and Richard and Mary Holland Curator of American Western Art.

Joslyn Art Museum preparator Kjell Peterson, left, and Kevin Salzman, installation and design manager, take "Portrait of Dirck van Os" to the Hitchcock Foundation Gallery on April 25. Behind them is the Dale Chihuly glass piece "Chihuly: Inside & Out."

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

'What is a Rembrandt?' Not a simple question

"Life is short and art is too long for anyone to learn all of it," Harold Parsons once said. "The only infallible basis for selecting works of art is connoisseurship ... that experience over many years of comparing similar things until you can distinguish good, better, best."

In theory, the Rembrandt Research Project began as a rejection to that early 20th century way of thinking. The group would support its intuitions with evidence, argument and consensus. But it found itself subjected to the same criticisms thrown at the traditional connoisseurs, along with some new ones.

The group's work proved arduous, the process slow. More than a decade passed before the committee published its first volume, addressing only Rembrandt paintings produced from 1625 to 1631. Two more volumes followed, in 1986 and 1989, but by then the project had come under serious attack.

The world expected a reduction in paintings attributed to Rembrandt, but many observers said the committee was going too far. If the project continued on the same path, the number of Rembrandt paintings would fall to around 300.

"They absolutely brought our level of scholarship to a far greater extent than it previously had been," said Arthur Wheelock, a longtime curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and professor of art history at the University of Maryland who specializes in Dutch and Flemish art. "But at the same time it became clear that this was not entirely scientific and there were prejudices."

One major issue centered on the nature of Rembrandt's studio. The artist had many students and apprentices. The challenge was not distinguishing between paintings by Rembrandt and derivative works decades later. The chore was parsing what happened within the artist's workshop.

What if Rembrandt worked on a piece with assistants? Or what about his patrons? Did they expect every brushstroke was his? Or did they understand (as historians now believe) that a workshop like his included delegation?

How could the committee decide what is or is not a Rembrandt when the definition of "a Rembrandt" was debatable?

Despite the criticisms, the project held sway as the final word on the artist. And other experts outside the group followed its lead, questioning previously accepted paintings.

Museums with multiple Rembrandts and institutional muscle pushed back. Others saw the writing on the wall.

In Omaha, the preliminary opinion of two committee members and the doubts of another established expert, Horst Gerson, prompted the Joslyn to reconsider the painting in its collection.

The Rembrandt world was shrinking, and "Portrait of Dirck van Os" was no longer in it.

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

Ernst van de Wetering is the world's foremost expert on Rembrandt's work. "I always had the feeling it was one," he said of the painting owned by the Joslyn Art Museum since 1942. Associated Press photo.

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

Art authentication is a tricky business in part because the stakes are so high — often the difference between a painting worth millions and one worth thousands — and because the methods of arriving at such a judgment can appear so subjective.

A connoisseur is by definition a person whose knowledge and devotion to a specific era or artist, built over years of research, yields an almost preternatural instinct about a work of art's authenticity. They know it when they see it.

That type of innate understanding is still generally accepted. The difference now is that connoisseurs are expected to provide a solid case to support their intuitions. Experts have long cited a work's provenance, or history of ownership, as well as how a piece demonstrates the artist's style and technique. Today, they might seek out specialists of a certain attribute on display, such as the clothing of a given person in a particular time and place, and they increasingly rely on technology to provide a forensic analysis of a painting's entire life.

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

The big money at stake in the art market also makes good-faith authentication difficult. A couple of years ago, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts made headlines when it ended its practice of authenticating works attributed to the pop artist icon. The mere threat of litigation and the multi-million-dollar liability it posed became too much to bear.

The foundation's decision shows what hangs in the balance when a work of art is investigated. For a private seller, even a rumor of inauthenticity can cast a painting into damnation.

For museums, it's a bit different. A questioned work instead falls into a kind of purgatory. Even a painting like "Portrait of Dirck van Os," which no one ever suspected of forgery, only that it didn't come directly from the hand of Rembrandt, becomes locked in limbo.

Which is where John Wilson found the painting when he arrived at the Joslyn in 2005 as the museum's new curator.

Wilson looked into the museum's curatorial file and discovered, to his surprise, that the Rembrandt project had never formally rejected the painting. Some scholars doubted it, sure, but others supported it.

"These people who had concerns about it were looking at a black and white photograph of a painting in a compromised condition from the 'middle of nowhere,'" Wilson said, suggesting a cultural bias against a Nebraska museum. "So it couldn't possibly be a Rembrandt."

Wilson, before leaving Omaha in 2008 for San Diego's Timken Museum of Art, reached out to Rembrandt experts around the country. It had been two decades since the Joslyn de-attributed "Portrait of Dirck van Os," and in that time the field of Rembrandt connoisseurship had shifted once again. Gone was the once-celebrated committee structure of the Rembrandt project. It was still going, as influential as ever, but now one man stood at the helm.

Wilson wanted to build a case for him. He knew all other opinions would not matter without him.

"The only person that really counts," he said, "is (Ernst) van de Wetering."

(Story continues below)

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

10 Joslyn prized possessions

Joslyn Art Museum's holdings have a national reputation in many areas, which hometown visitors may not realize. Toby Jurovics said he accepted the job of chief curator based heavily on the richness of Joslyn's collection. He believes Omaha doesn't realize what a gem it has. Here is his list of 10 important works the museum owns. They are important not only for their value on the art market but also for their contribution to telling the story of art. — Carol Bicak

 

First slide

Galaxy

Jackson Pollock, 1947
Pollock started his famous "drip" paintings in 1947 and was an early proponent of Abstract Expressionism. This painting was one of the first canvases Pollock took off the easel and laid on the floor for the application of paint, which created "tremendous vibrancy," Jurovics said. He also experimented with materials such as sand and aluminum paint in this work. "Galaxy" was a gift from Peggy Guggenheim in 1949. Pollock's "No. 19 1948" sold for $58.3 million in 2013.

Second slide

The Trapper's Bride

Alfred Jacob Miller, 1850
Joslyn owns one of the largest collections of Miller works in the country (125 watercolors and seven canvases), and this is a major painting in that collection. Like Karl Bodmer, Miller accompanied a foreigner (William Drummond Stewart of Scotland) on a trip through the West. Miller was able to blend the knowledge he gained from the trip with romanticism in his work. Jurovics calls this painting the "most beautiful and elegant in the (Miller) collection." The museum purchased this work in 1963.

Third slide

Sunset, West Twenty-Third Street

John Sloan, 1906
This painter was one of The Eight (also known as the Ash Can School), which was led by Robert Henri. These artists rejected the art of established, society-favored artists such as John Singer Sargent for more gritty, everyday reality found in urban landscapes. The palette for The Eight was murky grays and browns, with blasts of bright color, like the orange found in this painting of Sloan's wife doing laundry. Joslyn purchased it in 1957.

Fourth slide

The Grief of the Pasha

Jean-Leon Gerome, 1882
Although painting at the time of the Impressionists, and even teaching some of them, Gerome was a disciple of the French classical school. He explored mythical themes, and after taking trips to the Middle East, he used the area for subject matter. "The Grief of the Pasha" is an example of his richly detailed, realistic style in the story of a ruler whose beloved tiger has died. Francis T. B. Martin gifted Joslyn the painting in 1990.

Fifth slide

Venus at Her Toilette

Veronese (Paulo Caliari), 1582
One of the top three 16th century Venetian painters (the others were Titian and Tintoretto), Veronese created a complex composition in oil, which has little of the reality of the Titian work but spotlights the artist's creativity. The mythical subject gave the artist an excuse to paint a nude in loving detail, Jurovics said, and he shows off his painterly skill in the detailed, sensuous surroundings and use of perspective. Joslyn purchased this painting in 1942.

Sixth slide

Stone City, Iowa

Grant Wood, 1930
Jurovics said this iconic American piece by the quiet philosopher-artist may be the Joslyn's most famous painting. The landscape, created in a stylized, hard-edged realism that Wood used in his final 20 years, celebrates the virtue of the Midwest. It's difficult to tell the limestone quarry in this idyllic landscape brought eventual ruin to the town. "Stone City" was a 1930 gift from the Art Institute of Omaha.

Seventh slide

Monoscape

Helen Frankenthaler, 1969
The artist created biomorphic shapes in her paintings, which are a direct progression from Abstract Expressionism. Like Pollock, Frankenthaler poured paint directly onto unprimed canvases placed on the floor, but her thin layers of paint saturated the canvas rather than build up layers on the surface. Her works are organic and lyrical. This painting was a museum purchase with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts Museum Purchase Plan Grant and matching funds from the Joslyn Women's Association in 1978.

Eighth slide

Attic Black-Figured Ovid Neck Amphora

Omaha Painter
This vase, produced about 570 B.C. in Athens during the Archaic-Classical Period, is one of the stars of Joslyn's collection of Greek vases. Jurovics said the 15-inch-high vase depicts a Greek hero defeating the Amazons on one side and a symposium of men on the other. The artist was named the Omaha Painter by Dietrich von Bothmer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Another work attributed to this artist can be found at the Louvre. Joslyn's vase was a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Thomas C. Woods Jr. in 1963.

Ninth slide

Giorgio Cornaro with a Falcon

Titian (Tiziano Vecelli), 1537
Titian was a master of oil painting, modulating color and shadow through many layers of glazes. Here he creates a lifelike individual with a distinct personality. The portrait was conserved in 2008 at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which revealed some of the richness of the paint. It is one of the stars of the collection. A 1533 Titian portrait of Alfonso d'Avalos (wearing an intricate suit of armor), which is roughly the same size as Joslyn's work, sold for $70 million in 2004.

Tenth slide

Small Country Farm at Bordighera

Claude Monet, 1884
Monet set out to capture the light, colors and lush landscape of the Mediterranean town he visited near the border of France and Italy. He found it frustratingly elusive, but this was his favorite piece of the 40 paintings he produced there. Monet's "Le Pont du Chemin de fer a Argenteuil" sold for $41.5 million in 2008). This painting was a museum purchase in 1943.

Expert glimpsed master's touch

Van de Wetering was there when the Rembrandt project formed in 1968. He served as the committee's assistant for the first few years, then became a full-fledged member in 1971. In his early 30s, he was the youngest in the group by a good margin. He would also be the last man standing.

In 1993, following the controversy that swarmed the project's first three volumes, four of the five committee members announced they were stepping aside. That left it to van de Wetering to chart a new course.

"When we started with this project, the tendency was reduction," van de Wetering said recently. "But the reduction (needed) a revision."

Two more volumes of the Rembrandt catalog came out under van de Wetering's direction. He scrapped the format of the previous volumes and adopted a more exhaustive approach, providing more details and information about methodology.

He still had critics, but generally the project was accepted as an improvement.

"There are more nuances in the assessments of paintings," said Wheelock of the National Art Gallery. "I don't always agree with the conclusions he comes up with, and that's fine. That's part of working with this complicated artist and his workshop."

Gary Schwartz has been one of the project's most persistent critics for years. A Brooklyn-born art historian who lives in the Netherlands, Schwartz saw an improvement under van de Wetering but still points to contradictions in his arguments.

As early as 1997, Schwartz noticed something else. Paintings previously dismissed or rejected by the project were getting a new look. One notable example was "The Polish Rider." The Frick Collection never changed its attribution; now van de Wetering agrees it's a Rembrandt (with some additions).

"When van de Wetering took over the RRP, he reversed the trend," Schwartz said by email, "taking it onto an upward loop."

That loop brought van de Wetering to Omaha in 2010. He wanted to see "Portrait of Dirck van Os" in person after years of knowing it only through reproductions.

He believed in it.

"Otherwise, I wouldn't have gone," he said. "I always had the feeling it was one."

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

When van de Wetering first approached "Portrait of Dirck van Os," his impression was disappointment.

"It made me sad," he said.

The painting bore little resemblance to the one started in Amsterdam more than three centuries ago. Any trace of the artist's work sat beneath layers of dirt, grime, botched attempts at conservation and discoloring varnish.

It needed extensive restoration, van de Wetering thought. It deserved it, too, because in spots — the face and hair, primarily, and in the hands — he saw Rembrandt's magic. He saw the master's touch in the rendering of this prominent and elderly Dutch citizen. How the artist layered the paint, how he approached the skin, how he created the "suggestion of light." Van de Wetering saw its beauty.

Several months later, Jack Becker, who had taken over as Joslyn executive director in 2010, paid a visit to van de Wetering in Amsterdam. They were joined by conservation expert Martin Bijl. The three discussed the work that needed to be done on "Portrait of Dirck van Os," and Becker, convinced the painting would be in the best possible hands, agreed to return with it in tow.

Bijl, the former head of restoration for the Rijksmuseum, worked for more than a year, painstakingly removing centuries of damage and poor retouchings.

As he did, the work of Rembrandt appeared in various ways. The posture of the sitter was almost a mirror image of a 1658 Rembrandt self-portrait at the Frick Collection. Within the binding agent that once covered the original canvas, Bijl detected ground quartz, a trademark of Rembrandt's studio.

It returned to Omaha in September, a different painting and the same one.

It is more valuable, of course. Though the Joslyn declines to say how much it is worth, other re-attributed Rembrandts have been valued in the millions and even tens of millions of dollars in recent years. Its date also makes it special.

"These late portraits belong to the best he ever painted," van de Wetering said.

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

In June 1942, as the Joslyn's purchase of "Portrait of Dirck van Os" became final, Parsons wrote a letter congratulating the museum board.

"We shall come to realize the profound significance of the Rembrandt the longer we live with it and study it," he wrote. "With just the right individual lighting, the portrait will begin to assert its great mystical and psychological qualities, and will reveal itself to all as a great masterpiece."

Today, Parsons' judgment gleams again. His eye is vindicated.

The final volume of the Rembrandt project's corpus comes out later this year. It will be the definitive catalog, recognized even among the projects' critics. And enshrined on its pages will be "Portrait of Dirck van Os."

A Rembrandt after all.

"There was a time that connoisseurship as far as Rembrandt was concerned was quite superficial," van de Wetering said. "It was intuitive opinions."

Doubts like those raised over the Joslyn portrait are "of no significance at all," he said. The questions end here. Connoisseurship has changed, said the one man whose opinion matters.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1056, casey.logan@owh.com

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

In self-portraits, Rembrandt painted his life story

Rembrandt van Rijn, to borrow a popular Rumsfeldian phrase, is a classic "known unknown."

His name registers as one of the most recognizable in art history — with Leonardo, Michelangelo, van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir, Monet and Picasso — and almost four centuries after the fact, his paintings pulse with the uncanny quality that separates greatness from the very good.

But he's also a mystery. The lack of records from his prolific 17th century studio has thrown hundreds of paintings into a centurylong debate over authenticity. Little information exists about his artistic intentions, and the six-word phrase that survives — Rembrandt's desire to display "the greatest and most natural movement" — has left scholars grasping after its meaning.

And then, as if to swat the contradictions of his own legacy (known, unknown) back across the net, Rembrandt left behind an almost perfect account of his life.

He painted self-portraits, a lot of them.

They begin in Rembrandt's 20s, including the portrait "Rembrandt Laughing," a long-missing work that suddenly appeared at auction in 2007 and was sold to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for the reported sum of $25.1 million.

They show the young artist as he looked in the early 1630s, now living in Amsterdam and seeing his career as a portraitist take off. They capture him at the end of that decade, too, a dark time that saw the loss of his first three children, all infants, and then his wife Saskia's death in 1642.

As Rembrandt's technique shifted in the 1650s, adopting the broader brushstroke and less detailed style of his celebrated late period, his self-portraits start to reveal his age and, in the weary lines of his face, the financial ruin that marked the end of his life.

"He was a singular connoisseur of ordinariness," wrote the late art critic Robert Hughes in a 2006 article in the Guardian, "and some of his self-portraits are eloquent proof of this."

They exhibit the same qualities that separate Rembrandt as an artist: portraying people as they looked, revealing identity without romanticism, providing an illusion of familiarity with someone unknown.

— Casey Logan

 

• • • • • • • • 

 

A Rembrandt oil-on-canvas self-portrait, painted in 1658, at age 52. Rembrandt died 11 years later.



Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Born July 15, 1606, in Leiden, Netherlands.

Died Oct. 4, 1669, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

» Considered the towering figure of the Dutch Golden Age.

» Celebrated for the honesty of his portraits and expert use of light and shadow.

» Painted dozens of self-portraits throughout his life.

Attention shines on genre of portraiture

The title of the painting is "King Don the V." We'll get back to the man it portrays in a moment.

First, though, about the portrait itself: It is an oil painting, 40 inches tall by 30 inches wide, completed just seven years ago by the American artist Red Grooms. It currently hangs in the contemporary wing of the Joslyn Art Museum, not far from Jackson Pollock's "Galaxy." A bejeweled crown rests atop the head of King Don, who sits draped in an ornate red costume. It is caricature but not cartoonish. Whimsical yet respectful.

Jack Becker stops in front of "King Don the V" to make a point about portraits. Becker, CEO and executive director of the Joslyn Art Museum since 2010, makes this point again and again as he walks through its galleries.

"Portraiture can reveal things about an individual, and it can do so in different ways," he says. "Sometimes people say, 'Oh it's sort of boring,' but I think we all respond to images of others."

The museum's unveiling of "Portrait of Dirck van Os," which has just been reattributed to Rembrandt, not only brings attention to the 17th century Dutch painter but to the genre of portraiture itself. It's what Becker means when he calls the Rembrandt work an "entry point" to the Joslyn's larger collection.

Despite their prim reputations, museums are not static environments. Multiple visits under different mindsets can deliver entirely original experiences. Walk into the museum to see its newly famed Rembrandt portrait, and you might suddenly notice that portraits are everywhere, from gallery to gallery, medium to medium, century to century.

In a quick sprint through the Joslyn's galleries, Becker brushes past "Amenirdas I, the Divine Consort," an ancient Egyptian granite sculpture of the Kushite princess.

Portrait.

He continues into the museum's esteemed European collection, stopping at the 16th century Venetian artist Titian's magnificent oil painting "Giorgio Cornaro With a Falcon."

Portrait.

Onward to Titian follower El Greco and his slightly surreal "Saint Francis in Prayer."

Portrait.

Becker keeps moving through the gallery space where "Portrait of Dirck van Os" will hang toward an extraordinary oil painting by the 19th century artist Konstantin Egorovich Makovsky. It is an oil rendering of a Tatar woman with a feline friend, aptly titled "Russian Beauty and Cat."

"This whole idea of portraiture," Becker says, darting from work to work, never really stopping, "you start with an ancient god and whip through the Mary Cassatt portrait ("Woman Reading"), and the Matisse ("Head of a Woman"), there are these shifting themes about portraiture."

He enters the museum's American West collection, pointing to a watercolor by Karl Bodmer, the 19th century Swiss artist who traveled through the Missouri River Valley and painted landscapes and portraits of Native American life.

"These are just exquisite portraits," he says, "revealing about character and exoticness and identity and costume and people that as a European he's never encountered before."

Farther on, he stops briefly at "Portrait of Captain Joseph Reddeford Walker," a vivid work by the American painter Alfred Jacob Miller. Becker describes it as Rembrandtesque in its use of light and shadow.

"It is a way for people to access the collection and access history in a different way, and to think about image-making and art," he says.

Finally, he arrives at what he calls "the Red Grooms portrait," the artist's 2007 painting of "King Don." It's a tribute to Grooms' friend D.J.R. Bruckner, a retired New York Times critic. Bruckner was a writer, book lover and true Renaissance man, according to his obituary in the Times last September. He was fluent in three ancient languages (among some modern ones), a proud liberal, a member of the prestigious enemies list of President Richard Nixon and a spectacular one-time reviewer of the 1985 action movie "Commando" (first line: "Arnold Schwarzenegger is a delicate talent to work with").

Bruckner, born in Omaha in 1933, was a Creighton University graduate who went on to become a Rhodes scholar and all those many other things after that. His story began in Omaha, and it continues here today, one of many figures and faces on display at the Joslyn, in portrait.

— Casey Logan

Red Grooms' portrait "King Don the V" is a tribute to Grooms' friend D.F.R. Bruckner, a retired New York Times critic. Bruckner was born in Omaha in 1933 and graduated from Creighton University.



"Woman Reading" by Mary Cassatt is one of the many examples of portraiture on display at Joslyn Art Museum.



Rembrandts in North America

Museums with Rembrandt paintings on display. Stars denote significant collections.

California
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
* J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena
Timken Museum of Art, San Diego
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Illinois
Art Institute of Chicago

Maryland
Baltimore Museum of Art

Massachusetts
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gardner Museum, Boston

Michigan
Detroit Institute of Arts

Minnesota
Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Missouri
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo.

Nebraska
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha

Nevada
Wynn Collection, Las Vegas

New York
* Frick Collection, N.Y.
* Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.

Ohio
Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati
Toledo Museum of Art

Texas
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Washington, D.C.
* National Gallery of Art

Canada
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Sources: rembrandtpainting.net and individual museum websites