Treasures of Kenwood House Exhibit at Arkansas Arts Center Until September 8!

Portrait of the Artist by Rembrandt is the showcase piece of the exhibit. Photo by Z. Clift.

‘Portrait of the Artist’ by Rembrandt is the showcase piece of the exhibit and marks the first time a Rembrandt painting has been exhibited in Arkansas. Photo by Z. Clift.

A standout exhibit called  ‘Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London’ is now at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock until September 8.

Oil on canvas by Thomas Gainsborough. The painting is ofJohn Joseph Merlin ( 1781). Merlin was a fascinating man of his time and was a Belgian-born mechanical prodigy and inventor. He is also credited with the invention of roller skates! Photo by. Z. Clift.

Oil on canvas by Thomas Gainsborough. The painting is of John Joseph Merlin ( 1781). Merlin was a fascinating man of his time and was a Belgian-born mechanical prodigy and inventor. He is also credited with the invention of roller skates! Photo by. Z. Clift.

Many of the works in the exhibit have never been seen in the U.S. before and this is the first time a Rembrandt painting has been exhibited in Arkansas. Many of the works ( the collection includes 48 paintings) have also never been exhibited outside Kenwood.

As to story behind the collection, Edward Cecil Guinness, the first Earl of Iveagh and heir to the world’s most successful brewery ( yep, that Guinness), bought the Kenwood House and estate in London to display his art collection. He donated Kenwood, along with this collection, to Britain when he passed away in 1927. Kenwood House, which is a neoclassical villa, is open to the public and the collection draws millions of visitors a year. Due to a current renovation of the villa, the collection has traveled to the US. for the first time ( Houston, Milwaukee, Seattle, and Little Rock—which is the last stop before the collection returns to London).

His collection, which is called the ‘Iveagh Bequest’, includes paintings by some of the most influential European artists of the 17th through 19th century including Rembrandt van Rijn, Anthony Van Dyck, and Thomas Gainsborough. One of the most famous paintings featured is Rembrandt’s ‘Portrait of the Artist’ ( c. 1665), which is one of his last self-portraits. Some say the picture suggests Rembrandt’s confidence in his reputation as an artist despite the troubles in his personal life. He was 59 when he painted it and would die 4 years later. His wife had already died and he had lost several children. He was also bankrupt.

View of the exhibit. Photo by. Z. Clift.

View of the exhibit. Photo by. Z. Clift.

If you happen to miss the Rembrandt at the exhibit, the Arkansas Arts Center has some Rembrandt drawings in it and those are on display in the permanent collection gallery. During my visit I went on a guided tour care of one of the docents ( Paula Furlough was our guide—she was very passionate about the paintings and told great  stories including tales about the  lifelong rival between leading 18th-century painters Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough—both who were well known for their British portraits and were founding members of the Royal Academy. They did have a reconciliation with each other  though when Reynolds was on his deathbed. Both professed their mutual admiration for one another and their contributions to art ).

Among the several impressive Gainsboroughs showcased is a full-length portrait called ‘Mary, Countess Howe’. This image is regarded as a masterpiece of English painting, and is only the third full-length portrait Gainsborough ever painted. A seascape image by Joseph William Turner called ‘The Iveagh Sea-Piece’ is also very memorable for the stormy scene is shows. In addition to collecting portraits of  ladies, Lord Iveagh was, as a father, drawn to paintings of children. These portraits often served as reminders of the fleeting innocence of youth. One of the masterpieces of this genre is ‘Miss Murray’ by Thomas Lawrence, which shows a three-year-old girl gathering flowers in the lap of her dress. Other artists that are featured in the exhibit include Francois Boucher, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Albert Cuyp, Francesco Guardi and Joseph Wright of Derby. If you get a chance, make a point to try to see the exhibit while it is here as it really is an impressive sight to see.

Arkansas Arts Center. Photo by . Z. Clift.

Arkansas Arts Center. Photo by . Z. Clift.

The Arkansas Arts Center was founded in 1960 and is located at 9th and Commerce. It is a center for visual and performing arts and features a collection of international art. Their collection includes paintings, sculptures, and the largest U.S. collection of watercolors and drawings by 19th century artist Paul Signac.  Admission to the exhibit is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $6 for youth/students. It is free for members of the center. Cost to the gallery  is free. Gallery hours are 10-5 Tuesday-Saturday and 11-5 on Sunday. It is closed on Mondays. For more details call 501-372-4000 or visit arkarts.com.

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Posted in Central Arkansas, Museums, Visual Arts

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