‘The Late’ shows

Edward Lucie-Smith considers the phenomenon of

‘The Late Style’ in relation to Rembrandt and Turner

The new Rembrandt show at the National Gallery in London (until January 18th) is clearly meant to challenge the enormous success the same institution enjoyed with its recent

exhibition devoted to Leonardo da Vinci. It is a populist homage to one of the undoubted giants of Western European visual culture.

Instead of trying

to embrace the whole man, or at any rate the whole artist, as the Leonardo exhibition did,

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it focuses on a very specific period of the

artist’s life – his last decade and a half, roughly speaking from the time he went bankrupt in 1656 to his death in October 1669, aged 63 (his
self-portrait at that age is illustrated here).

The show has

a very particular context, perhaps the result of happenstance. London is currently playing host to another major exhibition devoted to a great master from the past –

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a painter as well known, and as
much of a universal culture hero, as Rembrandt himself.

This, at Tate




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devoted to the British landscape painter, J.M.W. Turner. Entitled ‘Late Turner – Painting Set Free’ (until January 25th) it focuses on the productions of Turner’s final years, from 1835, when the artist was 40, to his death in 1851, aged

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76. Turner began his

​ final phase at an earlier age than Rembrandt, and lasted somewhat longer.

The idea of the ‘late style’, as a very google_ad_width = 970; special, magical phase in the evolution of the work of a great artist, is a comparatively modern invention. To the credit of the organizers, the catalogue of the Rembrandt exhibition is careful to spell this out. As Jonathan Bikker and Gregor J.M. Weber write in an essay entitled ‘Explaining Late Rembrandt’: “At the beginning of the twentieth century the search for specific rules governing the evolution of styles gave rise to a mythology of the aged artistic genius, driven to produce outstanding works in the face of his approaching death.” They add to this:

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“The concept of ‘Alterstil’ (old age style) emerged /* xin2 */ to account for late-life /* 9-970x90 */ creativity…According to the authors who coined the term, the
characteristics that defined Alterstil…

of genius. It must

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be immediately noted that the idea of the ‘genius’ – artistic, musical or literary – was itself not fully evolved until, at its earliest, the later years

number of acknowledged masterpieces, such as the Jewish Bride from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which may also be a
marital double portrait, and the huge (though still cut down) Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis borrowed from Stockholm.

There is also an array of self-portraits, which do much to explain why Rembrandt is today regarded as an ‘honorary contemporary’, in a fashion denied to other major painters of the same epoch, such as Rubens. We seem to

be offered direct access to the artist’s innermost thoughts and feelings.

The impact of the google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; show is nevertheless diminished by the

fact that the general effect is so cluttered. The paintings are accompanied by a mass of late period drawings and prints, impossible to examine in any detail google_ad_height = 90; in the thronging crowd of spectators. One longs to be able to stand back and take an unobstructed look at the major items.

The Late Turner show at Tate google_ad_slot = "8637400688"; Britain occupies more


spacious quarters and is much more logically hung.
the Britain of the first half of the google_ad_width = 970; 19th century. The celebrated Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great
Western Railway (1844) is a good example.


The catalogue note on
the painting appositely remarks that: “Nature’s sublimity is controlled and condensed by the new industrial //--> paradigm, when water is transformed by heat to produce motive power.”

Nevertheless, as the google_ad_height = 90; exhibition is at some pains to establish, Turner’s art also had deep roots in the classic landscape painting of the past, in particular in the work of Claude and Poussin. There are frequent references to mythological themes, and to be fully understood

what he did often needs to be seen within the
framework of an old-fashioned classical education. To force Turner into a totally