Take your selfie with Rembrandt’s selfie at Kenwood House
- Credit: Christopher Ison/English Heritage
Interactive exhibition invites visitors to take their picture with the Dutch master’s Self Portrait and upload it into a digital ‘photomosaic’
Over his long life Rembrandt painted 80 self portraits from etchings and drawings to full scale paintings.
Among the most famous; Self Portrait with Two Circles hangs in Kenwood House.
To mark the 350th anniversary of the Dutch master's death, the Hampstead mansion has installed an interactive installation where visitors can get up close to the painting and upload their own selfie into a digital artwork - or 'photomosaic' of their faces.
The Friends of Kenwood, who have funded the mini exhibition hope it will raise the profile of the English Heritage property and encourage a new generation to step inside and explore its treasures.
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"We've called the exhibition #nofilter because we are trying to say that Rembrandt, an artist famous for his self portraits was showing himself with no filter, just as some people take selfies with no make-up," says Wendy Monkhouse, senior curator at English Heritage.
"The painting is very honest. He shows himself simply, in the act of painting in his studio, with all the confidence that comes of age. He wanted to be seen for posterity and we are interested by the modern phenomenon of how much time people spend on perfecting a selfie, an image that's gone in a moment."
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The Kenwood self portrait dates to 1665 when Rembrandt was 59 and was acquired by Edward Guinness - later Lord Iveagh - in 1888 from a Mayfair art dealer as part of a duo for £27,000.
The brewing magnate bequeathed Kenwood House and his art collection to the nation in 1927.
A quote from Rembrandt: "Life etches itself onto our faces as we grow old, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses", greets visitors as they enter and Monkhouse hopes to open up a conversation about self-image, truth and self-examination.
"Rembrandt has always led the field as the great artist - a painter's painter and this painting has been recognised for a long time as a great work. It was made towards the end of his life and is very different to the self portraits he was producing in the 1630s when he wore elaborate costumes and depicted himself with different facial expressions.
"He was trying to work out how to portray different emotions using his own face which he knew so well. He was his own model, a model always readily to hand, but he was also interested in self and identity and exploring human psychology. All of his portraits were an exploration of a person and their character so when you look them you really feel you know this person."
The Kenwood self portrait has been on tour in recent years, to America in 2012, in an exhibition of the artist's late works at the National Gallery and Rijksmuseum in 2015, and to The Gagosian for an exhibition of self portraits. Curators hope the Old Master will resonate with a new generation of visitors who recognise the same impulse to "capture a sense of self and control their own image."
"We are living in an age of the visual where we are communicating more and more through images rather than words," says English Heritage curator Esme Whittaker.
"People are self-curating images, the self portrait has been democratised and I think contemporary audiences can respond to Rembrandt's visual language. What's interesting is the longevity of his image versus the ephemeral nature of many selfies."
Monkhouse adds that Kenwood staff have increasingly noticed visitors taking photos of themselves with the paintings.
"So often you see someone with their back to the work of art. We want them to turn around and look at this picture that has been called a male Mona Lisa because of its enigmatic quality - everyone sees a different expression or story, but all of those stories are hinted at. By isolating the painting and improving the lighting, you can really get up close for a look, wander around with the ipad to take your photo and have a bit of fun with it."
"This painting really rewards getting to know it, and it will go on giving back over the years."
Helen Payne of the Friends of Kenwood said Londoners were lucky to be able to visit the house at any time and see a major artwork free of charge: "350 years after Rembrandt died we realised we have arguably his most famous self portrait - to the extent that the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam even sells a chocolate bar with our portrait on it.
"It's a world famous picture, a fantastic asset and we lobbied English Heritage to mark that anniversary and try to raise the profile of Kenwood which is one of london's greatest places with one of the greatest art collections. More people should come."
#nofilter runs at Kenwood House from October 4 until Jan 12, 2020.