As Edinburgh prepares to celebrate the epic work of Rembrandt, five figures from the Scottish art world discuss the Old Master's influence, skill and legacy
Best known for his self-portraits and the monumental masterpiece The Night Watch, the artistic influence of the Dutch master Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn cannot be overstated. As the Scottish National Gallery stages its landmark exhibition of key pieces in the artist's oeuvre, as well as works by his contemporaries and the British artists he would go on to inspire, five artists, gallerists and curators discuss the painter's enduring legacy on the art world.
Robert Powell, artist I can see that I've consulted a lot of Rembrandt for my exhibition at the Fine Art Society. There are five books on him open on the studio floor. Often looking at his work is to recalibrate my sense of quality, and to try and dissuade myself from getting sloppy. Each image brings with it a swarm of pleasures and the ways that any person (artist or not) can learn from them are many.
However, I think these are things that I have tried to plunder from Rembrandt recently: his compositions that peer through architecture or slope up stairways; pictures that are segmented by ledges and platforms; the astonishing clarity he is able to bring forth from a dark puzzle of cross-hatching; those magnificent, voluptuous costumes that have no root in a time or place but are there for the sensual pleasure of the clothes and taste of the exotic (I've been copying quite a few of his mad hats).
The enjoyment in the construction of a picture like 'The French Bed' where an extra leg has been added to a couple making love, just – I suppose – to see what it might look like. But what I really aspire to is that respect for every inhabitant of the picture: however gruesome or insignificant, they are rendered humane.
Robert Powell: Between the Lost Places, The Fine Art Society in Edinburgh, Dundas Street, 20 Jul–3 Sep, Mon–Fri, 10am–6pm, Sat, 11am–2pm, free.
The Mill Jilly Dobson, managing director, Open Eye Gallery In the early 1960s, upon moving into student digs on Edinburgh's Rose Street, John Bellany found a large abandoned chest in his room full of French edition prints of Old Masters, among them Dürer, da Vinci and Rembrandt. John festooned his wall with the prints, which then became inspirational to his work. He favoured the realism and grittiness of Rembrandt's work as well as his determination to depict true life rather than the idealised, softer-edged scenes of later 18th and 19th century artists.
Bellany's dark and powerful paintings from the 60s were significantly inspired by Rembrandt: one of his most famous paintings, 'Allegory', nods a head at Rembrandt's 'Slaughtered Ox'. Some of his later works are also a homage to Rembrandt. 'Danaë' and 'Susanna', both painted in 1990, depict the tale of Susanna and the Elders, a Biblical story painted by Rembrandt in 1647. In Bellany's 1990 piece he also captures the true voluptuousness and enticement of Greek mythology's Danaë, whom Rembrandt painted in 1636.
Throughout Bellany's life, Rembrandt remained an inspiration; he had a true respect and admiration for his practice and, throughout his life's work, he continued to salute the great artist.
John Bellany (1942–2013): The Wild Days, Open Eye Gallery, Abercromby Place, 28 Jul–27 Aug, Mon–Fri, 10am–6pm, Sat, 10am–4pm, free.
Self-Portrait, aged 51
Rosie Razzall, curator of Prints and Drawings, Royal Collection Trust The Venetian painter Canaletto is best known for his view paintings of Venice that were especially collected by British Grand Tourists as souvenirs of their time in the magical watery city. But Canaletto's subjects – city views – had their roots in Dutch painting of the 17th century, of which Rembrandt was one of the leading artists, as well as Jan van der Heyden and Pieter Neefs the Elder. Canaletto must have been familiar with the work of these artists, with their ability to manipulate perspective and their focus on everyday life.
One of the most striking works by Canaletto in The Queen's Gallery show is a drawing of the lagoon on a long, thin strip of paper, with a ship and its rigging beautifully observed at the centre. This drawing allows the visitor to get a fuller picture of Canaletto's work beyond the more familiar tourist views of Venice, and is a work that in its maritime subject and handling of pen and ink seems incredibly Dutch.
Canaletto & the Art of Venice, The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Royal Mile, until 21 Oct, Mon–Sun, 9.30am–6pm, £7.20 (£6.60).
Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt
Thomas Flanagan, marketing officer, Edinburgh Printmakers During the 19th century there was an air of experimentation heralded, in part, by a sudden influx of new aesthetic theories and artistic manifestos. In this climate, many of the old masters turned to printmaking as an experimental medium. Rembrandt frequently used etching, developing an innovative technique that stemmed from an exploration of every stage of the process.
Sometimes he would cut his etching plates into unorthodox shapes and use them for smaller studies that would later be integrated into other works. He also often reworked his plates, embellishing the same image with different permutations and demonstrating how one idea could be taken to several different conclusions.
In this way, Rembrandt might have heralded the mass-produced multiples of 20th-century printmaking, which often exhaust the possible instantiations of an image. This notion finds direct expression in the work of Andy Warhol, for example, who frequently printed the same image in a terrific range of colours. Certainly, Rembrandt's approach to etching finds expression throughout contemporary printmaking practice, where images and fragments are repurposed again and again, with printmakers frequently integrating previous creations into new artworks.
A Man in Armour Raqib Shaw, artist My painterly education began with Rembrandt. He taught me two things: the importance of good draughtsmanship and the discipline required to push one's craft to a romantic extreme. I remember quite clearly the first Rembrandt work I encountered. In a tatty book tucked away in the school library as I idly flicked through the pages, there it was: 'Belshazzar's Feast'. I thought: magnificent!
I was 11 years old at the time and living in Kashmir. In the years before the civil war, Kashmir was an oasis of religious tolerance, a space of possibility and free thinking where one could be educated at a Catholic school, and encouraged to look at artists such as Rembrandt depicting a story from the Old Testament's Book of Daniel alongside the mythic battlegrounds of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
These fond memories inform a vast historic and geographic psychic region that my own paintings attempt to navigate. Often, when I reach an impasse, I find myself seeking advice from these Old Masters, in the hope they will provide me with the continued confidence to further my exploration of art.
Raqib Shaw: Reinventing the Old Masters, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Belford Road, 0131 624 6200, until 28 Oct, Mon–Sun, 10am–5pm (Jul, Sep & Oct), Mon–Sun, 10am–6pm (Aug), free.
Rembrandt: Britain's Discovery of the Master, Scottish National Gallery, The Mound, 7 Jul–14 Oct, Mon–Sun, 10am–5pm, Thu, 10am–7pm (Jul, Sep & Oct), Mon–Sun, 10am–6pm, Thu, 10am–7pm (Aug), £13.50 (£11.50).
Back in 1762, the young King George III acquired a bunch of paintings, drawings and prints by Canaletto, and they are now part of the Royal Collection. See some here, along with works by Canaletto's great contemporaries.
Eight works by the Indian-born, London-based artist, whose remarkable, intricate paintings are often inspired by works by the Old Masters. Here, they're shown along with two paintings, Paton’s The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania and Cranach’s An Allegory of Melancholy.
National Galleries of Scotland
This exclusive new exhibition, which will only be shown in Edinburgh, reveals how the taste for Rembrandt’s work in Britain evolved over the past 400 years. From early beginnings around 1630, it grew into a mania that gripped collectors and art lovers across the country, reaching a fever…