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Seattle Art Museum presents European masterworks from London and Seattle collections
View of Dordrecht, ca. 1655, Aelbert Cuyp, Dutch, 1620-1691, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 53 1/4 in., Kenwood House, English Heritage; Iveagh Bequest (88028825), Photo courtesy American Federation of Arts.

SEATTLE, WA.- This winter Seattle Art Museum presents Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London, featuring about 50 masterpieces from this magnificent painting collection, many of which have never traveled to the United States. The exhibition is on view February 14 through May 19, 2013 and is organized by the American Federation of Arts and English Heritage.

This collection, known as the Iveagh Bequest, resides at Kenwood House, a neoclassical villa in London that Scottish architect Robert Adam remodeled in the eighteenth century. Set in beautiful landscaped parkland in the midst of Hampstead Heath, Kenwood House is one of the most magnificent visitor attractions in London. This elegant villa, houses a superb collection of paintings that includes masterpieces by Rembrandt van Rijn, Johan Vermeer, Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Gainsborough, as well as the Suffolk collection of rare Jacobean portraits.

Donated to England by Edward Cecil Guinness, (1847–1927), the first Earl of Iveagh and heir to the Guinness Brewery, the collection was shaped by the tastes of the Belle Époque—Europe’s equivalent to America’s Gilded Age—when Lord Iveagh shared the cultural stage and art market with other industry titans such as the Rothschilds, J. Pierpont Morgan, and Henry Clay Frick. Lord Iveagh’s purchases, made mainly between 1887 and 1891, reveal a taste for the portraiture, landscape, and 17th-century Dutch and Flemish works that could typically be found in English aristocratic collections.

“This exhibition introduces us to one of the greatest private art collections in Europe, assembled in the astonishingly short period of three years,” said Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture. “Edward Cecil Guinness exemplifies the rise of a new kind of collector, one not born into the aristocracy but who amassed a personal fortune based on spectacular business success.”

Among the works by Dutch and Flemish masters in the exhibition is Rembrandt’s sublime Portrait of the Artist (ca. 1665), one of the artist’s last self-portraits and one of only a few of his many self-portraits that show him as a working painter. His barely articulated brushes and palette are painted in the same tones as his robe and seem like a natural extension of his arm. The prime focus of the painting is the artist’s face, illuminated by light and a bright white cap against an otherwise murky background.

There are several paintings by Gainsborough in the exhibition including the full-length portrait Mary, Countess Howe (ca. 1764), in which Gainsborough has created both an image of aristocratic elegance against the natural setting of the English countryside and one of a landowner among her properties. Such fulllength portraits of ladies in nature were popular during this period, owing to a great admiration for the aristocratic portraits of Sir Anthony Van Dyck, royal painter to Charles I of England in the 17th century. Along with such aristocratic ladies, the collection’s “virtual harem” of English portraits features celebrity demimondaines including actresses and mistresses. Foremost among these are Emma Hart—later Lady Hamilton—who served as George Romney’s muse, and Kitty Fisher—one of the most celebrated courtesans in London society.

British portraits of 18th century gentlemen are often placed indoors in dignified settings that indicate their accomplishments or status as leisured aristocrats. Van Dyck’s influence on such portraits is evident in a comparison of his James Stuart, 1st Duke of Richmond and 4th Duke of Lennox (ca. 1636) to Gainsborough’s portrait of John Joseph Merlin (1781), which echoes Van Dyck’s 17th-century aristocratic portrait in its use of a seated pose, elegant hands, and bold, red fabric against a brown background.

The exhibition also includes two rare hunting scenes by Gainsborough and a thrilling Edwin Henry Landseer picture of a heron caught in the grip of a hawk.

While the exhibition is on tour, Kenwood House will be undergoing a major repair and conservation program. The work will make the roof wind and weather tight—protecting the magnificent interior and important art collection from serious leaks and damp—and will also repair and revive Kenwood’s beautiful exterior. The project will be complete in summer 2013.

Focusing on a great collector of the 19th century, the Treasures of Kenwood House also presents the perfect moment to reveal some of the extraordinary collecting of European painting that has been quietly taking place in Seattle over the last 20 years. The Treasures of Seattle exhibition features approximately 40 paintings, all from local collections, which share the special exhibition galleries with the paintings from Kenwood House. The paired exhibitions give visitors the opportunity to observe different approaches to collecting, the history of taste, and how the market has changed since Lord Iveagh began to form his collection in 1887. Featured artists include Vittore Carpaccio, Francisco de Zurbarán, J.A.D. Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, and Frans Hals.

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