Rare Rembrandt drawings on display at the NC Museum


By COLLEEN HAMMOND, The News & Observer

CHAPEL HILL, NC (AP) — After years of anticipation, a collection of rarely exhibited drawings by Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn is now on display at the Ackland Art Museum.

Ackland’s new exhibition, ‘Drawn to Life: Master Drawings from the Age of Rembrandt in the Peck Collection’ features dozens of 17th- and 18th-century drawings by Dutch and Flemish artists, including five sketches by Rembrandt, who died in 1669 .

They are all part of the Peck Collection, which the Acklands received in 2017. It was the largest gift ever given to the UNC-Chapel Hill Museum of Art, courtesy of the late UNC alumnus Sheldon Peck, and his wife, Leena Peck. This extensive collection, valued at $17 million, included 134 Dutch and Finnish drawings.

“Drawn to Life,” with 70 works, is the first time many of these drawings will be on public display since the donation. The museum notes that many can only be displayed for short periods as they are sensitive to light.

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While Rembrandt’s paintings and portraits from the Dutch Golden Age strike viewers with awe and radiant glow, these drawings tell a very different story. This collection features more understated works that are meant to be viewed for longer periods of time.

Filled with humor and humanity, these sketches testify to a change in artistic ethics at that time. Instead of creating idyllic landscapes, Rembrandt and his contemporaries began to create more realistic images marked with slight imperfections and honest depictions of their subjects, said Dana Cowen, Sheldon Peck Curator for European and American Art before 1950.

“The designs are so intimate,” Cowen said. “The more you look at them, the more time you spend with them, the more you see.”

Cowen invites visitors to meditate on these drawings and to slip into the artist’s world to encounter the particular cast of characters depicted throughout the exhibition.

One of Cowen’s personal favorites is “Head of A Woman Looking Downward” by Frans van Mieris. This simple profile drawing, as its title suggests, depicts a woman posing for a thoughtful artist.

The collection includes drawings by artists Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan van Goyen and Adriaen van Ostade.

The exhibition is open until December 31, before moving to the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam in March.

The museum claims that the Peck Collection has helped make it one of “the few university art museums in the United States where scholars and students can study Northern European designs in depth.”

Sheldon Peck, one of the museum’s main benefactors, was a Durham native who died in April 2021. He was 79 and was an orthodontic specialist, educator and art collector. Leena Peck, who grew up in Finland, died in 2019 at the age of 73, the Boston Globe reported.

“Their collection has been fueled by a scholarly quest and natural curiosity to explore how masterful artists have captured a slice of humanity and truth in their works,” according to Sheldon Peck’s obituary.

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