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Calling a Bluff: Hendrick Ter Brugghen's The Gamblers at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Hendrick Ter Brugghen, The Gamblers. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
MINNEAPOLIS.- Hendrick Ter Brugghen’s seventeenth-century Dutch masterpiece The Gamblers will be on view for the first time at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) after an extended stay at the Getty Conservation Institute at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Opening May 24, “Calling a Bluff: Hendrick Ter Brugghen’s The Gamblers” presents the painting with its new, dramatic look, which captures the work as the artist originally intended. The exhibition also explores the process and procedures involved in restoring a work of art. This dossier exhibition is organized by the MIA and will be on view in the Cargill Gallery through August 3, 2008.

“This is the first time the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has been invited to participate in a project funded by the Getty Conservation Institute,” said Patrick Noon, Chair of Painting and Modern Sculpture at the MIA. “We are profoundly grateful for this opportunity and elated with the outcome of the restoration of our masterpiece.”

“Calling a Bluff” takes visitors through the restoration project, from the initial technical examination featuring full x-radiographs of the painting, to the different phases of conservation work performed during several months. These phases included the careful removal of two strips of canvas that had been added to each side of the painting at an unknown date to extend the composition, perhaps ensuring a proper fit in a specific frame. When the strips were removed, the painting’s frame had to be cut down and refitted to accommodate the smaller, original size of the canvas. In addition, the painting was carefully cleaned, and several aged layers of over-paint and discolored varnish were removed, which revealed the artist’s use of rich color and contouring.

“The painting has undergone a dramatic transformation,” said Erika Holmquist-Wall, Assistant Curator of Paintings and Modern Sculpture at the MIA. “The Gamblers has changed in both appearance and size. It is, in essence, a reverse makeover, where we can now see the painting’s colors and composition as the artist originally wanted viewers to see them.”

Acquired by the MIA in 1960 through the museum’s William Hood Dunwoody Fund, The Gamblers was sent to the Getty Conservation Institute in November 2006. The treatment process lasted ten months, and the painting was then exhibited in the galleries of the J. Paul Getty Museum for six months. The painting returned in March 2008 to the MIA; after “Calling a Bluff” it will be on view in the MIA’s permanent collection galleries for European paintings.

Ter Brugghen (1588–1629) received his initial artistic training in Utrecht, Holland. As a young artist, he made a trip to Italy that would change the course of his career. While living in Rome, Ter Brugghen became acquainted with the work of Michelangelo da Caravaggio (1571–1610), whose innovative manner of painting and choices of subject matter would influence a generation of young painters from Italy to the Netherlands. Returning to Utrecht in 1614, Ter Brugghen developed his own interpretation of Caravaggio’s style. He depicted scenes of musicians, drinkers, and game players with a sense of realistic, animated movement, and employed dramatic, even decorative, contrasts of lighting.

In The Gamblers, dated 1623, three soldiers are shown arguing over a throw of the dice, the outcome of which has likely been rigged. Realizing he has been conned, the older soldier instinctively grips the hilt of his sword, which further elevates the tension of the scene. The compressed foreground of the painting invites the viewer to take a seat at the table. Paintings like this work, depicting common, everyday events and people, were popular in the Netherlands during the early seventeenth century. The prosperous merchant middle class was growing, bringing about a new demand for small-scale paintings for home décor.

Ter Brugghen was likely a victim of the plague, which flared up in Utrecht during the autumn of 1629. The artist died that November at age 42.

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