It's not typical that an oil painting can stir up lots of contradictory emotions, but when I look at certain works it seems like the artist is able to capture not just one or two feelings but the whole emotional spectrum. When you see one of these works, you know–it's like an exhilarating wind rushes over you.
For me, Rembrandt will always have this effect. As an oil-painting artist, he was a master of nuance. Often, you'll look at one of his paintings and think you've got it–all in one glance. And that can be true. But the more time spent with Rembrandt's works, the more they reveal themselves to you.
|The Mill by Rembrandt, oil on canvas, 1645-1648.|
When I first saw The Mill, I thought I understood it immediately. The majesty of the moment as the golden twilight tipped the arms of the mill was obviously a kind of homage to the artist's past–his father was a miller, so this oil painting may depict a cherished scene from his childhood. But then you look further at the oil painting and you see the figures nestled at the base of the hill, almost hidden by the dim light of oncoming evening. Their presence enlarges the narrative, possibly encompassing the Dutch people as a whole, who battled for the lands the artist depicts. The moment could be an homage to their sacrifice and a reminder of what was won.
The painting is also a little sad, if not slightly foreboding, as it shows the night claiming the day. Almost like something is being lost. Perhaps this is not what the artist intended, but I certainly react this way to the painting. And the fact that a single oil painting is able to encompass so much is testament to the artist's skill in slowly and subtly revealing a narrative through color choices, composition, and where he places figures.
Looking at Rembrandt's application of mere oil on canvas turned into such diversity of emotion is cause for rejoicing. Knowing that oil-painting art is capable of all this is incredibly inspiring for me–and I'm sure for you as well. For more from the true masters of this art, see which of our Annual CDs–like the The Artist’s Magazine2011 Annual CD–do it for you. Right now they are all available at 60% off, so enjoy!