23 August, 2008

Horst Janssen- Rembrandt House

From 31 May to 24 August the Rembrandt House Museum is staging an exhibition of works by the German graphic artist Horst Janssen (1929-1995). Janssen was a virtuoso draughtsman with an extraordinarily expressive handling of line. Although his work is largely figurative, he never slavishly imitated the truth. The reality in his portraits, self-portraits, landscapes, still lifes and erotic scenes is always distorted and dramatized. He was a great admirer of Rembrandt and often took his inspiration from the master's work, particularly in his many self-portraits and landscapes. The hundred finest etchings have been selected from Janssen's huge oeuvre, supported by some of the highlights among his drawings. This is the first exhibition in the Netherlands to be devoted to Horst Janssen's prints.

Horst Janssen

Janssen is one of the greatest printmakers of the twentieth century. Dozens of monographs have been published about him. Horst Janssen is as famous in Germany as he is unknown outside its borders. Without doubt this has to do with his absolutely individualistic position in the post-war art climate. The visible world was always the point of departure for his work. This meant he was diametrically opposed to the spirit of the modernist schools in the second half of the twentieth century, where abstraction predominated. Now that figuration is an enduring feature of contemporary art, modern artists like Horst Janssen, whose work is more figurative, are at last getting the appreciation they deserve. In 1999 the Horst Janssen Museum, dedicated solely to his work, opened in Oldenburg, where he spent his youth and where he was buried in 1995. In Hamburg, where he was born in 1929, and where he continued to live and work after the war, there is a separate room in the Kunsthalle where his work is on permanent display. The exhibition in the Rembrandt House has been organized in close collaboration with these two museums.

Janssen was a virtuoso draughtsman with a highly individual use of line. This virtuosity and expressiveness is perhaps seen to greatest effect in his prints. It is therefore not surprising that Janssen regarded himself first and foremost as a printmaker, specifically an etcher. Like Rembrandt, Janssen experimented throughout his life with the expressive possibilities presented by the technique. On one of his prints, a reworking of an etched self-portrait by Rembrandt, he added the telling inscription: nach 'Ihm' (after 'him'). We may infer from this that he revered Rembrandt as his hero. Janssen was certainly also influenced by a great many other artists of the past-Callot, Segers, Goya, Füssli, Friedrich, Utamaro, Hokusai, Meryon, Klinger, Munch, Schiele, to name just a few-but to him Rembrandt was more than an admired exemplar: he saw him as a soul-mate. The Rembrandt House Museum is thus an entirely fitting venue for the first exhibition ever devoted to Janssen's graphic work in the Netherlands. His kinship with Rembrandt is most clearly expressed in his many self-portraits and landscapes, and it is for this reason that the works in the exhibition have been selected primarily from these areas of his immense oeuvre. Three essays in the publication accompanying the exhibition explore the areas where the two artists come together.


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