Why is Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669) so important in art history–while his phenomenally talented contemporary, Jan Lievens (1607-1674), is usually just a footnote? Back in their day, they both got the big commissions, made lots of money, and for a period beginning in 1626, even shared a studio. This retrospective takes you all the way back to the beginnings of Jan Lievens’ career, which, remarkably enough, began at age fourteen, and then lets you watch his work build in power and ability over the next ten years, until, remarkably enough, it seems to lose momentum. (Although he still got plenty of work.) What happened? Sometimes, both Lievens and Rembrandt were commissioned for paintings on the same theme, but it’s almost too painful to make the comparison. Lievens could just never compose a multi-figure baroque painting, even if he had become a master of evocative portraits, still-life and drawing. And he just wasn’t suited for the dark, tragic temper of mid-seventeenth-century Europe. He should have been born into the earlier, lighthearted, more hedonistic and buoyant generation of Frans Hals. But still, those paintings that, incredibly enough, he made in his early twenties, are masterpieces, and worth the trip up Interstate 94 to see them gathered together for a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition. (Chris Miller)
Through April 26 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 North Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, (414)224-3200.