Staff Favorites: From Comics to the Dutch Golden Age

Oil painting of sitting man wearing yellow and arms on armrest

Rembrandt's Self-Portrait

Long before I knew of lightfast pigments and the scent of linseed oil, the realm of art was, for me, confined to cartoons and comics. I started drawing around my first birthday and found inspiration at an early age in American and Japanese animation. For a child, this was certainly more exciting than the bucolic landscape of John Constable’s Flatford Mill hanging in my grandparents’ dining room. Indeed, that lamentably faded reproduction of the British artist’s work was my only exposure to fine art during the first eight years of my life. My vocation as an artist was never in doubt, but my lack of understanding as to what art can achieve propelled me toward the graphic arts.

I eventually went to art school to become a painter, deciding against a career in illustration and setting aside the fruits of all those years in high school spent writing and drawing comic books. The choice, however, was far from sudden. When I was eight, a salesman rang our doorbell one evening and convinced my mother to purchase an eleven-volume children’s encyclopedia for my sister and me. Each book was dedicated to a different subject, from mathematics to anatomy. One of them was about art. 

Curiously, the only artist I recall from this tome is Rembrandt, tucked away near the end of the book in a solemn spread. Two images on the left page were captioned “Rembrandt in his Youth” and “Rembrandt as an Adult.” And on the right, covering nearly the entire page, was a third image of the artist accompanied by the caption “Rembrandt as an Old Man”—an image that, unbeknownst to young me, was then proudly displayed in the Frick’s West Gallery. Looking at this self-portrait, I learned for the first time that art, among many other things, can achieve stupendous realism and transmit vivid emotions. All in a single picture. It gave me the foundation for what drives my work today: craft and narrative. The seed was planted.

When I turned eighteen, I visited New York for the first time and came face-to-face with the Frick’s masterpiece. The rendezvous was ten years in the making, and the profound gaze of the Dutch painter spurred a revelation of the kind found at a vital crossroads. My fate as an artist was sealed.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606–1669), Self-Portrait, 1658. Oil on canvas, 52 5/8 x 40 7/8 in. (133.7 x 103.8 cm)

Staff Favorites is a series of personal reflections by Frick staff members about works of art in the permanent collection. In January 2021, the Frick—in association with DelMonico Books/D.A.P. New York—will publish a collection of texts in a similar vein by prominent artists, writers, and other cultural figures, each sharing how a work of art at the museum has moved or inspired them. Titled The Sleeve Should Be Illegal & Other Reflections on Art at the Frick, the anthology is made possible by The Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation.

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