Etchings by Rembrandt figure prominently in the collections of many American academic museums, in part because they reward close looking and appeal to a wide range of learners and visitors. Lines of Inquiry: Learning from Rembrandts Etchings, an exhibition at the Allen Memorial Art Museum
at Oberlin College that runs from February 6 through May 13, 2018, brings together 60 prints by the 17th-century Dutch master.
The exhibition has been co-organized by the Allen with Cornell Universitys Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. Lines of Inquiry is curated jointly by Oberlins Curator of European and American Art Andaleeb Badiee Banta and Andrew C. Weislogel, the Seymour R. Askin, Jr. 47 Curator of Earlier European and American Art at Cornell. In addition to prints from Oberlin and Cornell, the show includes etchings on loan from Harvard, Princeton, Syracuse, Vassar, Yale, the University of Kansas, the Morgan Library & Museum, and private collections.
Rembrandts etchings have long been treasured for their technical innovation and perceptive portrayal of the human psyche. In the unique environment of the campus art museum, Rembrandts etchings have remained relevant even as pedagogical priorities have shifted, inspiring multidisciplinary teaching approaches, historical investigations, and technical studies. Lines of Inquiry highlights both the scope and subtlety of Rembrandt as an etcher of diverse subject matter, including portraits, genre scenes, landscapes, nudes, and religious narratives. In addition, this multifaceted exhibition examines the artists enduring status as a printmaker who continually experimented with processes and materials.
The exhibition explores how the technical study of these etchings and the papers on which they were printed reveal Rembrandt to be a savvy businessman. Research on the watermarks found in the papers can provide clues about the timelines of his print production and distribution. The exhibition introduces Cornells Watermark in Rembrandt Etchings (WIRE) project: a collaboration among museum staff, faculty members in art history and engineering, and students from many disciplines designed to digitally facilitate access to Rembrandt watermark scholarship. WIRE continues to pursue new watermark discoveries and expands knowledge about the artist through digital means. The exhibition includes a video on the WIRE project, along with a touchscreen interface that allows visitors to interact with the WIRE project database.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue coauthored by Andaleeb Badiee Banta and Andrew C. Weislogel, which includes research on the history of Rembrandt prints in academic collections and their technical study through the WIRE project. The directors of the Oberlin and Cornell museums have contributed an essay recounting the extraordinary episode of the Allens secret guardianship of the Morgans Rembrandt etchings during World War II; it was written by Andria Derstine, John G. W. Cowles Director at the Allen, and Stephanie Wiles, the Richard J. Schwartz Director at Cornell.