Rembrandt self-portrait at DIA

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

The 28-year-old gazes out at the world from beneath an outsized beret, his expression curious and vulnerable.

"Self-Portrait with Shaded Eyes," painted by Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn in 1634, disappeared from history until 1995, when an X-ray revealed its existence beneath another painting, presumably by one of Rembrandt's students.

"Shaded Eyes" is owned by the Leiden Collection in New York, and is on loan to the DIA as a "guest of honor" through Dec. 13. You'll find it on the third floor in the museum's outstanding gallery of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age.

DIA director Graham Beal, whose academic focus was 17th-century Dutch painting, calls "Shaded Eyes" a classic example of what the Dutch termed a "tronie" — an informal portrait often characterized by flamboyant hats or exaggerated facial expressions.

(According to the Historians of Netherlandish Art website, "tronie" is an archaic Dutch term meaning "head" or "facial expression.")

"Rembrandt did a number of these 'tronies,' which are now generally called self-portraits," Beal says. "There was a wonderful New Yorker cartoon years ago in which Rembrandt turns from his easel to call to his lover, 'Hendrickje, bring me the funny hats! I feel a self-portrait coming on.' "

Throughout his career, Rembrandt painted some 40 self-portraits — an astonishing number for a commercial artist.

"No artist in history did so many," Beal says. "Of course, it saved him money on models. Yet this one is painted at the height of his fame. And while he was overspending like mad at the time, he was still very wealthy."

The surprising bottom line, Beal adds, is that Rembrandt was so famous that wealthy clients were willing to pay big bucks for an image of the artist himself.

In an interesting choice, the museum has hung "Shaded Eyes" next to "Man Wearing a Plumed Beret and Gorget," originally thought to be a Rembrandt, but subsequently shown to have been painted by a different artist, likely someone in the master's Amsterdam workshop.

"Now that you see the real Rembrandt next to it," Beal says, "you can tell it doesn't have the sense of life that the visiting one does — even though the other is a fantastic picture."

While at the museum, don't fail to take in the fantastic pictures in the small, elegant show on the first floor, "Ordinary People by Extraordinary Artists: Works on Paper by Degas, Renoir and Friends," drawn from the museum's own collection.

If the Dutch galleries let you immerse yourself in the 17th century, "Ordinary People" will reacquaint you with the considerable charms of the late 1800s.

'Rembrandt Guest of Honor'

Through Dec. 13

"Ordinary People by Extraordinary Artists: Works on Paper by Degas, Renoir and Friends"

Through March 29

Detroit Institute of Arts

5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit

9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Tuesday - Thursday, 9 a.m. - 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Saturday & Sunday

Free: DIA members and Wayne, Oakland & Macomb residents; all others - $8 adults, $6 seniors, $5 college students, $4 kids 6-17

(313) 833-7900