The Pierpont Morgan Library is an institution of understated style in self-promotion, given the incomparable quality of its art treasures. It now has on exhibit for the first time in nearly 25 years what it allows are the finest of its Rembrandt etchings.
A walk through the quiet galleries where "A Fine Line: Rembrandt as Etcher" is on view through Jan. 5, 1997, convinces a visitor that even if these works were on display more often, just a handful of them would be worth making a pilgrimage to see.This is superlative territory. Most people would recognize Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1609-1669) as one of the finest artists the world has seen. The museum calls its collection of the revered Dutch master's etchings the largest and most comprehensive in North America, which is a fair claim.
All the subjects Rembrandt worked and restlessly reworked in his etchings are represented in the selection on show, from dramatic biblical scenes to serene landscapes and searching self-portraits.
The latter include Rembrandt the elegant young dandy in 1631 with turned-up hat and embroidered mantle and Rembrandt the seasoned craftsman, drawing by a window in 1648, his last etched self-portrait.
There are famous large-scale works like the dramatic 1643 landscape "The Three Trees" with its loving couple hidden in the shadows; and the "Hundred Guilder Print" - traditionally named for its exchange value - made around 1647-49, showing Christ healing the sick amid a crowd that's a spectrum of human emotion.
And there's the only still-life etching Rembrandt did, whose delicate detail gives graceful shape to a shell.
The richness of the Morgan Library's collection allows visitors to compare several versions of several master prints, exhibited here side by side, in different states or differently inked impressions on various kinds of paper.