Aert de Gelder, Self Portrait with Escher, c. 1686.
Welcome back, friends! I have much to tell you — most of it having to do with my newly acquired model railroading hobby — but let me first share with you a gem of the Dutch Golden Age, unknown to me until a recent jaunt through the Hermitage.
You already know — I'm sure of it — of Aert de Gelder's long and proud history as standard-bearer for the style of his teacher Rembrandt, and of his earlier tutelage at the easel of one of my dearest favorites, Samuel van Hoogstraten. Art historians often read him as an also-ran, a sad bearer of Rembrandt's palanquin as the Old Master bid us all goodbye, in his wake coming the genre painters of the 18th Century.
I submit this painting as a refutation of that narrative, which I have always suspected of being a disingenuous gloss. Look at how de Gelder portrays himself: he confronts critics of his style even as he recognizes his place among his fast-moving contemporaries, one of whose works — M.C. Escher's Convex and Concave — he holds as he glances over his shoulder, red-eyed, befuddled, almost guilty to be observing his competition but still, admittedly, somewhat humbled by the leaps of perspective that Escher, psychedelic explorer of academic headspace, has undertaken. His marijuana cigarette smokes idly by a silent beeper. As a lover of art history one cannot help being somewhat wrenched by the self-investigation de Gelder has undertaken here. He aches to find his place in history even as it gallops onward. I end with a quotation from his diary, written (by my own research) roughly a year before this painting's completion: "Saw Escher drawings in house of M. Troost — my God."