Erwin Olaf x Dutch Old Masters at Rijksmuseum

July 9, 2019

A Dutch photographer famous for mixing photojournalism with studio photography, Erwin Olaf aims to implicitly visualizes the unspoken, the overlooked, that which typically resists easy documentation. His work addresses social issues, taboos and bourgeois conventions within the framework of a highly stylized and cunning mode of imagery.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has been a major source of inspiration for the artist since his early youth, most particularly the works of Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Breitner and other Dutch artists which are a part of its collection. Last year, the artist donated 500 of his works to the museum, including prints, portfolios, videos, magazines, books and posters - the fully representative range of work spanning his entire career.

To mark this transfer, the artist staged an exhibition titled 12 x Erwin Olaf, in which he placed his photographs in dialogue with Dutch paintings. This is the first time that his work will be displayed alongside that of his great examples.

Erwin Olaf - Grief Caroline, 2007
Erwin Olaf - Grief Caroline, 2007. Transfer of Erwin Olaf’s core collection, 2018

A Generous Donation

Working in an unconventional style, Erwin Olaf vividly captures the essence of contemporary life, never failing to deliver dramatic visual and emotional impact. In recent years, the photographer has been developing his themes through the form of monumental tableaux, focusing on stillness, contemplation and dreamlike mystery.

A master of his craft, Olaf is a true virtuoso in the fine and subtle arts of photography and drama. His work is deeply rooted in the visual traditions of Dutch art, forming an essential part of Dutch cultural heritage.

Motivated by the long relationship with The Rijksmuseum and the inspiration from its collection, particularly the Old Masters, he decided to transfer his core collection there.

Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck, Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue, 1641, Erwin Olaf, Hope – Portrait 5, 2005
Left: Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck - Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue, 1641. Acquired with the support of the Rembrandt Association / Right: Erwin Olaf - Hope – Portrait 5, 2005. Acquired thanks to BankGiro Lottery players

Olaf's Work Alongside Old Masters

Working in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum’s director Taco Dibbits, Erwin Olaf has selected eleven photographs and one video installation for display alongside eleven paintings and one print from the Rijksmuseum collection. The display will demonstrate the artist's effortless ability to bridge past and present.

For example, Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue by Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck will be coupled with Olaf’s Hope – Portrait 5. Among the reasons for which the artist chose Verspronck's work is the unique light in the subject's eyes and the texture of the fabric. With many other striking correspondences, Olaf regards this photograph and Verspronck’s painting as the results of synergy between artist and model.

Another two works which will be juxtaposed are Nude Woman by Rembrandt and Olaf’s 1987 photograph La Penseuse (Squares). Among features which bridge these two works is the artists' choice to portray an imperfect body and finely rendered depiction of the subject’s skin.

Rembrandt van Rijn - Nude Woman, 1629 - 1633, Erwin Olaf - La Penseuse, 1987
Left: Rembrandt van Rijn - Nude Woman, 1629 - 1633. Bequest Mr and Mrs De Bruijn-van der Leeuw Bequest, Muri, Switzerland / Right: Erwin Olaf - La Penseuse, 1987

Erwin Olaf Exhibition at The Rijksmuseum

The exhibition 12 x Erwin Olaf will take place at The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam until 22 September 2019.

On the occasion of the exhibition, the artist said:

I recognize myself in these paintings; the inner need for self-expression. I find this exploration of the interior the toughest of all, but also the most enjoyable.

Featured image: Erwin Olaf with a part of his work that is added to the collection of the Rijskmuseum, Amsterdam 2018. Photo: Olivier Middendorp. All images courtesy Rijksmuseum.

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