REMBRANDT & HERZOG

2 short reviews for now. I will post a longer one on The Ethnic Phenomenon soon, which again won’t be a review of a speculative work of fiction. However, I’m pleased to report I’ve finally started rereading Dune a few days ago – so I hope to review that in a few weeks.

If you’re not interested in the books, do check out my Werner Herzog documentary recommendations at the end, and the tragic lesson at the end of the Rembrandt review.


Rembrandt's Portrait of a Young Gentleman

REMBRANDT’S PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG GENTLEMAN – Jan Six (2018)

The back cover promises this account of how Jan Six discovered a new portrait by Rembrandt to be a “thriller”: sadly this is not the case. Six’s writing is dull and bland, and there is simply no tension whatsoever present, except at the very beginning, when Six spots the painting at Christie’s – it’s ironic that exactly that turns out to be a false account, but more on that later.

If you’ve read anything about Rembrandt by Ernst Van de Wetering – the leading Rembrandt expert – there won’t be that much to learn from this book about the practice of how 17th century paintings are ascribed to a painter, or on Rembrandt’s painterly processes. If you’re new to reading Rembrandt scholarship, this is an easy and quick crash course though. So, your milage may vary.

That said, the discovery of a new Rembrandt is of interest to any serious Rembrandt enthousiast, and as a way to acquaint oneself with this new portrait the little booklet – it can be read easily in under 2 hours – serves its purpose fairly well. There’s plenty of illustrations, and Six includes a good share of paintings by other painters for comparison. The few pages on the restauration, including pictures of the different stages, are the highlight of this booklet.

I would have liked a few more close-ups – it would have suited a publication dedicated to just one painting. All and all, I think this would have benifited tremendously from more detail and depth, but in that case it would have been harder to market and its price would’ve been steeper. Instead the publisher and Six opted for the easy money.

A final remark: the cultural significance of this book most of all lies in its sociological value – it is to say, in its relevance as an example of how our society works. Today’s Jan Six wouldn’t have had the same stature were it not for inherited money and status, him being Jan Six XI, a direct descendant of Jan Six I, who was an heir to a wealthy cloth merchant, and became a magistrat of Amsterdam, and obviously very rich. Jan Six was an art collector himself, and a friend of Rembrandt – who portrayed him in 1654 in an magnificent portrait that is still owned by the Six family. Some might think it poetic that a descendant of Jan Six I discovers a new Rembrandt, but I think it tragic.

It’s all the more tragic as reports in the Dutch press uncovered that Six XI was not fully truthful in this book about how he managed to buy the painting, and that there are serious indications that he double crossed a partner to do so – to the extent that Van de Wetering has publicly called for Six to share to ownership with his partner, and a few days later even denounced his friendship with Six, calling him a liar. I’m with Van de Wetering on this one, as he has no money or reputation at stake at all in this feud between former business partners.

Jan Six (1618-1700), by Rembrandt



Of Walking In Ice

OF WALKING IN ICE, Munich – Paris 11/23 to 12/14, 1974 – Werner Herzog (1978)

I’m a big fan of Werner Herzog’s documentaries. This is another affair however. A pilgrimage of sorts, these writings were meant as a personal diary, not to be published. As a result it is highly idiosyncratic. It might click with some readers, but it didn’t really work for me. It’s always a tough read when an author doesn’t focus.

The main problem with his 70-page booklet is the fact that there is no story arc or character development. Instead of story, there’s sequence. Of Walking In Ice is a never ending series of impressionistic descriptions of things that caught Herzog’s eye or mind during a journey on foot of 3 weeks from Munich to Paris. There’re instances of poetry & meditation here and there, but not enough for my liking. There’s lots of wisdom in Herzog’s documentaries, but there’s hardly any wisdom to be found here. Overall it feels disjointed and random. Herzog jumps from thing to thing very fast, often using just one sentence to describe something or someone, before describing something else that’s unrelated – except maybe spatially. There’s also a few hints of the surreal and the absurd, but again, not enough to deliver a coherent reading experience to this reader.

The ending is great though, so I’m glad I read it. Maybe this is better enjoyed in the original German for its possible poetic qualities – not sure.


I urge everyone reading this to watch any Herzog documentary. Here is a list of my favorites.

Bells from the Deep (1993, on faith and superstition in Russia)
Wheel of Time (2003, on Tibetan Buddhism)
The White Diamond (2004, on the ordeal of an mentally troubled aeronautical engineer who constructs an airship to fly in tropical forest canopy, with music by cellist Ernst Reijseger)
Grizzly Man (2005, on another troubled individual living with bears)
Encounters at the End of the World (2007, on people on Antarctica)
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010, on sable trappers in Siberia)
Into The Abyss (2011, on two men convicted for a triple homicide)
On Death Row (2012, a 8-episode series on capital punishment in the USA)

I guess my absolute favorite is Happy People, for its melancholic depiction of a way of life now lost to nearly all. The self-sufficient trappers’ radical loneliness in the vast winter of boreal nature is awe inspiring.

25 responses to “REMBRANDT & HERZOG

  1. Well, glad you’re getting around to Dune. Hope you like it…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Rembrandt’s portrait is a fascinating story, and, as you said, quite tragic. Seems that the humanity doesn’t change and the rich and priviledged will always have that much easier, in a truly Biblical fashion πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, and the thing is that I only learned about Six’s fraud after reading the book, while doing some research for the review. He seemed like a nice guy: he also presented a few short Rembrandt documentaries on Dutch television in commemoration of the current Rembrandt Year, as he passed away 450 years ago in 2019. Oh well, in all fairness, I have to state he denies most of the allegations, but not all of them – for instance he admits to have used some “poetic liberties” while writing the first few chapters of the book.

      Anyhow, it’s kinda vulgar that art of that importance that can be privately owned. Just the other day I saw a documentary on The Harversters by Bruegel, and in that it became clear to me another of his paintings, The Hay Harvest, is privatly owned by one guy, who also owns the entire Lobkowicz Palace and everything in it in Prague Castle. Granted, it’s for the public to view (after paying admissions, I saw it myself), so there’s an element of philantrophy there, but in the end, it’s just another form of snobbish paternalism.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is that, and I’m loath to think what would happen if the private owners changed their minds and removed their “properties” from public space. I agree that art of that caliber should be treated as common good and publicly owned.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The only tricky question is who should decide which art should be made publicly owned.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, indeed. Taxpayers? It’s going to be their money after all… Or art curators? They generally should know the worth of a work of art πŸ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

            • Or maybe all art should simply go to the public domain after, let’s say, 150 years of so. A bit like the rights to music or literature. That would allow art to remain in the hands of the original buyer for his/her lifetime, plus remain in the family for at least one to two more generations, which seems fair emotionally.
              It would also seriously put a dent in buying art out of speculation instead of true love for the work, and make the art that’s not public yet cheaper and more democratically accessible.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Sounds like a plan πŸ™‚ though I’m not sure how the artists themselves would approach this problem as this would probably seriously drive down the price of their work.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Artist that are in it for big money are not worth it either way.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Well I think that artists who devote themselves to art and are indeed great in what they do still should be able to make ends meet on their skill alone. There were plenty amazing artists who were sponsored by powerful patrons, for example. There were also those who died in poverty and misery, and yet their art is now highly valued. Is seems that our little dialogue begs for a discussion what good art really is and how to appreciate it and it’s makers πŸ˜€

                Liked by 1 person

              • Sure, I’m not saying artist shouldn’t be paid well, they might earn enough to drink champagne everyday for allI care, but there’s a big difference between Richter or Koons gettinga hundreds of thousands of dollars for one work vs. champagne breakfasts every day, let alone making ends meet.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Don’t get me started on Koons or Hirst! πŸ˜‰ I compare them more to modern football players than real artists, honestly – I feel their main artistry lies in the total mastery of PR and knowing the tastes of their audience than in eliciting an aesthetic/cognitive response in viewers.

                Liked by 1 person

              • I think both of their early work is important, and I quite like it. But you are right, their work today is more PR etc than anything else.

                Liked by 1 person

  3. I have so much to learn about Dutch culture, living here and all. I have seen the Nachtwacht in Amsterdam, Rembrandt was a pretty good painter

    Liked by 1 person

    • Where do you live exactly? If you’re in Amsterdam, there’s a few great museums to check out (Van Gogh, Stedelijk,…) on a regular basis. Also do visit the Mauritshuis in Den Haag, it has a stunning collection of Rembrandts that generally surpass those in the Rijksmuseum. Maybe my favorite Dutch museum is De Pont in Tilburg, overall a fantastic collection of contemporary art.

      One a sidenote, the ABC (American Bookstore) at Het Spui in Amsterdam has a fantastic collection of speculative fiction. If you haven’t been there: do pay it a visit. And most stores of De Slegte (in Amsterdam, Leiden and Rotterdam, and in Belgium in Leuven, Gent, Mechelen & Antwerp) have a great selection of second hand speculative fiction in English, and heaps of other stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Both books sound quite far from my “comfort zone”, but still, learning something about such a talented artist could be only enriching and therefore well worth the time. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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