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Kenwood House is a grand old estate bequeathed to England by the Earl of Iveagh in 1927. Lord Iveagh was Edward Cecil Guinness (1847-1927), an Irishman who built the family brewery into an empire, took it public, then sold most of his shares to retire and collect art. That was 1886; and by the time of his death (as the richest second man in Britain), he'd amassed one of those Old Master collections that signified status, wealth, and quality. No Renoirs or Picassos or Van Goghs for him; an early Turner or two was as avant-garde as he got. Guinness collected the big names, who created big canvasses that hung in big halls where you could impress the guests at big parties. Rembrandt's 1665 self-portrait is the centerpiece of this traveling show. (There's also a companion exhibit, "European Masters: The Treasures of Seattle," a smaller, somewhat random sampler from SAM and local collectors.) What Iveagh valued were tokens of genteel life from before the Industrial Revolution, as we see here: sailing ships and fatted cows, dimpled children in expensive frocks, mistresses dressed up as goddesses and milkmaids, hunting scenes and rural vistas without a smokestack in sight. All of which raises the the opposing questions of Are they good? vs. Are they prestigious? All the Dutch are good to my eye, and it's worth peering closely at the small series of Rembrandt etchings. Hals, Vermeer, and Van Dyck are worthy companions, and their collective restraint is a rebuke to the English bombast that followed. There's something impressive yet vulgar about Reynolds' Mrs. Tollemache as "Miranda” (with hideous Caliban cowering at her feet), the artist and his subject gesturing back to Shakespeare (and her dress to the Greeks), another exercise in borrowed status. Far preferable, from the Seattle sidebar, is Hals' Portrait of an Unknown Man, painted about a century earlier—though it seems more contemporary than the Reynolds. Put him in a Patagonia fleece jacket, Kindle in hand, white earbuds dangling, and he could be someone sitting next to you on the bus. Not so with poor embalmed Mrs. Tollemache. BRIAN MILLER
Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: Treasures of Kenwood House, London features a selection of approximately 50 masterpieces from the Iveagh Bequest...
From 1976, Truffaut's Small Change is an exquisite portrait of childhood, assembled from the daily doings of several kids--and some concerned adult...
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