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Recently has the Rijksmuseum commissioned the artist Anselm Kiefer to create an artwork inspired by Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. The by this renowned German artist delivered work is the cause of some controversy, it seems that instead of Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh has been his inspiration. Indeed does Kiefer mainly refer to the painting La Berceuse by Van Gogh. This originally as part of a triptych envisioned portrait of Augustine Roulin, depicting a woman rocking a cradle, would have been flanked by paintings of sunflowers. This trademark of Van Gogh recurs literally in Kiefer’s version and one can also consider his construction of display cases as a triptych. Whereby the central display case appears to be reserved for Van Gogh himself, the warped Mediterranean folding chair as his personification, or even directly derived from the legacy of his painting equipment. The strings in the original work that led from La Berceuse to the viewer, return in the wires from which this personification of Van Gogh seems to rock forever.
However Kiefer’s choice for precisely Van Gogh and specifically La Berceuse is not completely unrelated to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, what becomes clear on closer study. First there is the obvious overlap in title; The Night Watch and La Berceuse (meaning ‘Lullaby’ or ‘Woman rocking an infant’). Second we know that Vincent van Gogh was a great admirer of Rembrandt, Van Gogh even claimed that he would gladly give ten years of his life if he could only sit for fourteen days in front a work by Rembrandt. It seems that Kiefer has complied with this request and has Van Gogh forever floating in front of the masters ultimate masterpiece. Besides the similarities between Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Kiefer’s La Berceuse in both size, color and shape there is another important element which supports the Gesamtkunstwerk realized by Anslem Kiefer. That is Rembrandt’s painting The Resurrection of Lazarus which in turn for Van Gogh formed the inspiration for his version of The Resurrection of Lazarus. Unmistakably has Van Gogh taken Rembrandt’s Lazarus as a starting point and subsequently depicted himself as this biblical figure. Unlike Rembrandt Van Gogh chose hereby not to depict Jesus but the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary Magdalene. Whereby the latter bears strong similarities to La Berceuse (color of the eyes, hair and dress). Kiefer’s dead sunflowers, the vertical display cases, the suspended and damaged folding chair, the link with La Berceuse, in all seems to resonate the painting The Resurrection of Lazarus as well. As if tried to raise Van Gogh from the dead. And is that not exactly what happens when an artist decides to cite, to reuse a source of inspiration?
La Berceuce (for Van Gogh) will be on display at the Rijksmuseum from May 7, 2011. The exhibit even has its own Facebook page: www.facebook.com/KieferRembrandt
Rembrandt van Rijn – The Night Watch (1642).
Anselm Kiefer – La Berceuse (for Van Gogh) (2011).
Rembrandt van Rijn – The Resurrection of Lazarus (1632).
Vincent van Gogh – The Resurrection of Lazarus (1890).