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Boston's Best: "Artist in his Studio" by Rembrandt

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

50 best/most important/most interesting paintings in Boston, post number 3, Rembrandt’s “Artist in his Studio.” This little work--it’s only 9.75 x 12.5 inches--is one of my favorite paintings anywhere, not just in Boston. It’s a portrait; it’s a narrative painting; it’s an amazing study of light. And it’s filled with so many wonderful details: a mahlstick held with a pinkie, palettes hanging on the wall, vessels to the left of the artist, door hinges and latches, worn floorboards, cracking and crumbling bits of wall, the easel’s askew pegs, the blue of the robe that draws your eye to the artist, and, of course, the panel he confronts. What’s on it? Is it blank? Is the painting almost complete? Rembrandt’s little work depicts both the challenges and joys of painting. The mysterious panel looms over the artist, and dwarfs him in size, almost challenging him. Will the painter be able to transform this piece of wood into something worth looking at? At the same time, the panel offers him the magical opportunity to create his own world. As the MFA’s website states, “Artist in his Studio” is a “drama, with [an] emphasis on thought rather than action, [that] is intensified by the expressive use of light and shadow.”

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