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John Berger on Rembrandt and drawing


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The great John Berger reflects on Rembradt’s drawings, courtesy of Public Books. Here’s a snippet:

He drew because he liked drawing. It was a daily reminder of what surrounded him. Painting—particularly in the second half of his life—was for him something very different: it was a search for an exit from the darkness. Perhaps the drawings—with their extraordinary lucidity—have prevented us seeing the way he really painted.

He seldom made preliminary drawings; he began painting straight- away on the canvas. There is little of either linear logic or spatial continuity in his paintings. If the pictures convince, they do so because details, parts, emerge and come out to meet the eye. Nothing is laid out before us as it is in the work of his contemporaries like Ruysdael or Vermeer.

Whereas in his drawings he was a total master of space, of proportion, the physical world he presents in his paintings is seriously dislocated. In art studies about him this has not been emphasized enough. Perhaps because one needs to be a painter rather than a scholar to perceive it clearly.

Image: Rembrandt, Rembrandt and Saskia in the parable of the Prodigal Son (c. 1634)