Publishing date: 17. 04. 2013 | Category: PAST

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn


Exhibition opening: Friday, 19th April, 2013, at 18.30 in Lendava’s Castle.
The exhibition will be open until 29th September 2013.




Rembrandt’s Etchings and the Künstlerhaus

A story of generosity

The „Gesellschaft der bildenden Künstler Österreichs“ is Austria’s oldest artist association, founded in 1861 by some of the best known painters, sculptors and architects of the so called „Ringstraßen-Zeit“. Thanks to a generous donation by the Emperor Franz Josef I the Künstlerhaus was built on the centrally located Karlsplatz next to the equally world famous building of the Musikverein. It was one of the most modern event sites and exhibition houses of the time.

The year 1868 marks two milestones in the history of the Association: The opening of the building and the unexpected and even more invaluable donation of the painter Johann Ranftl’s art collection as a bequest from his widow Aloisia Ranftl.

Johann Ranftl (1804-1854) was a successful painter in the „Biedermeier“ period as well as a collector. Furthermore he was a respectable supporter of the idea to found an Austrian artists’ society, a project that took some more years after his early death caused by an epidemic. It is assumed Aloisia’s bequest 14 years later was given with her husband’s wishes in mind.

Ranftl’s interest as a collector was determined by his own work, especially by his interest in portraits and genre painting. He was a proponent of absolute faithfulness of nature, materiality of texture, clarity of light, and a still, expansive treatment of space. As many other painters of the time, above all Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Ranftl was concerned with genre scenes, picturesque portraits of the comfortable simplicity and coziness of bourgeois life before the radical changes and social unheaval of the Industrial Revolution and European nationalism.

It is no surprise Ranftl, as many other painters of the time, was looking up to the old masters of Dutch 17th century painting and etching, above all to Rembrandt. We do not know from which sources Ranftl acquired the 63 original prints by Rembrandt, some contemporary copies and the recent collotypes. Although greatly influenced by Rembrandt, Ranftl is not known to have produced any direct copies of Rembrandt’s work.

It seems the Künstlerhaus did not realize the importance of the collection for a long time, as a study in the sociology of collecting, as a lesson in etching taxonomy, as a unique stock of exquisite pieces of fine art in a very good shape. Consequently, the Rembrandt etchings survived WWI and WWII in the Künstlerhaus and the Albertina safes and have not been presented to the public earlier than in 1968. Since then they have been sent to many places around the world and reached a wide audience especially in the US, where from 1985-1987 they travelled through 20 museums.

However, etchings from the 17th century are not made for travel. If we want to preserve them for future generations we should handle them with care. So it might be the presentation in Lendava is the last one for a longer time of research – which was not done since the first description of the collection in 1966 – and for restoration, too.

Rembrandt was not only one of the most productive artists in the history of etching but famous for his constant striving for excellence and variety. Most of his etchings went through several different versions or states. Often a different state may be defined by adding only a few lines to an otherwise complete composition. It is remarkable that most of the etchings in the Künstlerhaus collection are in their final state. Some of the included etchings, such as “The Adoration of the Shepherds: A Night Piece” went through as many as eight states while others such as “Abraham and Isaac” were completed in only one state.

Rembrandt was popular. The most direct outcome of this popularity was the copy. The copies that are included in this exhibition are done by scholars to prove their technical talent, or they are poor reverse images of the original by unknown copyists or late impressions from the 18th century. In the 19th century a lot of collotypes spread Rembrandt’s images out to everybody and led the basis for one of the most successful brandmarks in art history that is still a garant for blockbuster exhibitions, even they “only” show the etchings and not the paintings.

dr. Peter Zawrel,
the director of Künstlerhaus, Vienna

PUBLICATION: Rembrandt (2013)

2013-04_rembrandt_web Title: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Year of issue: 2013
Number of pages: 36

← For a preview, click on the catalog cover image on the left side.

A printed copy can be purchased at the headquarters of the Institute Gallery-Museum Lendava (Lendava Castle).


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