posted 2012-04-25 23:07:06

“Rembrandt and Degas” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Exhibit at the MET highlights the similarities between the two artists

Ignacio-Alexander Pintor

Staff Writer

By the time Edgar Degas rejected the label of Impressionism and opted for Realist art, Rembrandt van Rijn had long been gone for more than a hundred years. While Rembrandt had a large influence on Degas’ work, the two had differences in their technique did not even work during the same era. Yet, from now until May 20, the work of these two artists is on display together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in an exhibition titled “Rembrandt and Degas: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”

Like many impressionists of his time, Edgar Degas found his signature style by studying Rembrandt’s oeuvre closely. A Degas work like “Engraver Joseph Tourny” could easily pass off as a work of Rembrandt’s. It is difficult to differentiate the etching of the two artists. The only clear difference between their works was the pressure they put on their needles when working on the etching. Unlike Rembrandt, Degas had a much smoother and less intense technique with less ink usage.

This is evident in the darkness and intensity of Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait Drawing At the Window,” where the Dutch artist is shown in an intimate, vulnerable position with a searching look in his face. The background is almost entirely black with just the proper touches to give insight to Rembrandt’s own thought-process. The darkness of the walls on the left represent the loss of creative imagination while light comes through the window to the right of the etching.

Image courtesy of
Degas “Young Man with Velvet Cap, After Rembrandt” uses plenty of intensity on a young man’s cap, which shows the influence of the great Rembrandt. The rest of the piece displays the passion and signature style that Degas would borrow from Rembrandt for his early etching work.

Closer observation of the exhibit also reveals distinctions between the two artist’s collections. Rembrandt’s art skills were like no other, but as Edgar Degas’ skills came closer to the Dutch master, Degas began to mature as an artist while finding a style that developed his own uniqueness.

Rembrandt’s self-portrait displays him as a young man with wild hair, sitting with a wondrous look in his eyes. His portrait reveals the care and tenderness he controlled his brushstrokes with. It’s a delicateness that displays how his paintings recreated the reality of the baroque style that dominated Europe in his early career.

In Degas’ self-portrait, Degas shows himself as a young man with a lost look in his face. But the look also holds a mysterious pride, as if he is giving us the pleasure to look at him in such state. In the color and shade is where Degas can be shown standing out with his own set of distinctions. Degas also remembers his roots in Impressionism and we see an emphasis with the way the light plays with the image.

“Rembrandt and Degas” highlights the importance of respecting traditions, being ambitious, and using past artists as guidance. The exhibit also serves as a reminder to keep the future generations in mind. Rembrandt and Degas certainly are art masters of their time and their work will continue to influence the Rembrandt’s and Degases of tomorrow.