For an exhibition far away from the cultural centres of the United States of America, it comes as a little bit of a surprise that just so many records were broken. But hey, we are talking about the one and only Dutch Golden Age painter Rembrandt van Rijn, so it would seem that anything is possible, especially drawing a 250,000 strong crowd to the North Carolina Museum of Art on its final weekend. If we assume that the numbers reflect adult paying visitors (which is a reasonable assumption), then that netted a nice little boost to the bottom line of $2.7 million, something any cultural institution would surely take. So what was just so great?
The NCMA firstly was the only East Coast venue for the exhibition Rembrandt in America, which would obviously be a significant driver of foot traffic. However, it really just was the greatness of Rembrandt oil paintings as well: more than 50 artworks from the best American collections were loaned, valued at USD $1 billion. It was also the result of five years of organising by the museum. The theme for the exhibition was also quintessentially American navel-gazing: it looked primarily at how rich Americans bought Rembrandt paintings off the booming American economy (no doubt something China will soon experience, as did Japan before) and also how work evolved and influenced across various genres ad artists.
Another significant part of the exhibition was the Rembrandt self portraits: there were 27 autographed paintings by Rembrandt, the most in living memory in America. Throw in more paintings by other Dutch masters such as Govert Flinck and Jan Lievens and you have a real show on your hands. And the organisers did: on Sunday, January 22, the last day of the show, 150,905 visitors went to the exhibition, setting a record only behind Monet and Rodin.
Not that the fact would bother organisers. The sheer number of people confirmed the popularity of Rembrandt paintings and we’re sure the organisers will have their vision set next on bigger and brighter things. It would no doubt be a reflection of Rembrandt himself. The Dutch artist set out as an engraver, before dabbling in self portraits and then full-length and large scale oil paintings. In fact, the exhibition of Rembrandt copper plates were perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the exhibition: eight were shown and the intricacy, deftness of touch and mastery of the element is further proof, not needed, of the genius that was Rembrandt.