Banksy's Rembrandt

Year: 2009
Medium: Acrylic/Mixed Media
Last Hammer: £330,000 (Phillips London, 2014)
Signed/Unsigned: Signed
This work by Banksy shows a reproduction of a self-portrait by Rembrandt, overlaid with a pair of googly eyes.Rembrandt © Banksy 2009
Joe Syer

Joe Syer, Co-Founder & Specialist[email protected]

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In 2009, Banksy created a compelling homage to Rembrandt van Rijn, the Dutch master of portraiture, known for his deep exploration of the self and human emotion. Banksy's Rembrandt pays tribute to the old master while engaging in a characteristically humorous take. The artwork shows Rembrandt, recognisable in his linen cap and red coat as seen in his Self Portrait At The Age Of 63, with his eyes are covered with plastic wiggle eyes – a playful yet profound alteration. By overimposing his portrait with googly eyes, Banksy mocks the seriousness with which Rembrandt’s art is taken in the art historical canon.

Rembrandt: Meaning and Analysis

This work illustrates Banksy’s practice in intense dialogue with the past, seamlessly blending historical art with biting contemporary commentary. Rembrandt is a significant piece that stands alongside other works like Sunflowers From Petrol Station and Show Me The Monet, showcasing the artist's penchant for reimagining classical art forms while maintaining his signature style. By integrating a modern and comical element into the revered image of Rembrandt, Banksy bridges the gap between the past and the present, inviting viewers to reconsider their perceptions of the hierarchy in the art world.

The original self-portrait by Rembrandt, created in 1669 and now hanging in the National Gallery in London, was one of his last and is famous for its introspective depth and the authentic representation of the self. Rembrandt's legacy in art is unparalleled, with around 80 self-portraits that challenge and redefine the boundaries of self-examination and trace an entire life of artistic expression. Banksy's reinterpretation of this iconic image is a bold statement on the nature of art itself, questioning the established canon and the dichotomy between high and low culture. Even the mediums themselves are subject to scrutiny: while Rembrandt’s original work is done in the hallowed medium of oil, Banksy recreates it in acrylic paint, which has largely been derided by the art world until recently.

Banksy's practice is defined by its rebellion, critique of societal norms and interrogation of the art world's conventions, urging viewers to question and redefine their understanding of art and its value. For decades, he has fought to place street art within the art historical canon, finally receiving due widespread recognition largely thanks to works such as Rembrandt. His comments on the survival of graffiti artists in indoor spaces by "painting over things that don't belong to you" further accentuates this theme, blurring the lines between what has traditionally been considered vandalism and valid artistic expression.

The intersection of Banksy's street art roots and the classical art world does not end with thematic exploration but extends into the realms of valuation and collection. Rembrandt exemplifies this crossroads, holding significant auction value that attests to Banksy's ever-rising prominence in the art world. This not only reflects the artist's technical skill and innovative vision but also the evolving criteria by which art is judged and appreciated.

“Rembrandt is a fresh take on the iconic self-portrait by integrating humorous modern elements. This work continues Banksy's tradition of challenging the art world's hierarchies.”

Joe Syer
Joe Syer,Co-Founder & Specialist,MYArtbroker

Banksy and Art History: A Confluence of Time and (R)Evolution

In Rembrandt, Banksy demonstrates his unparalleled ability to engage with historical art forms while imbuing them with contemporary significance and irony. Through this piece, Banksy engages in a dialogue not only with Rembrandt himself but with the entire canon of art history and, in particular, by following on the traditions of Dadaism and Pop Art in its playful yet pointed approach. In this way, Banksy places himself within a lineage of art movements that have sought to challenge and reinterpret the established norms of their times.

Dadaism, with its radical interventions into the conventional art narrative, famously parodied the Mona Lisa through Marcel Duchamp's "L.H.O.O.Q.", where the revered portrait was redrawn with a moustache and goatee. This act of irreverence towards one of the most idolised artworks in history encapsulated Dada's mission to question the sanctity and authority of the art world. Similarly, Banksy's decision to overlay Rembrandt's eyes with plastic wiggle eyes serves as a humorous touch and a deliberate echo of Dada's subversive spirit. It is a gesture that challenges reverence for the past, suggesting that even the most sacrosanct subjects can be revisited and reimagined with a contemporary lens.

Pop Art, on the other hand, is renowned for its appropriation of popular and commercial imagery, recontextualising it within the art world to blur the lines between "high" and "low" culture. Artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein transformed mundane or iconic images into significant artistic statements, thereby democratising art and its subjects. Banksy, in a similar vein, appropriates the image of Rembrandt, an icon of high art, and infuses it with a modern, playful twist. This highlights the ubiquity and relevance of Rembrandt's image while situating Banksy within a tradition of artists who have sought to bridge the gap between disparate cultural realms through appropriation.

Rembrandt is a testament to Banksy's astute awareness of his place within this continuum, showcasing his ability to weave together the threads of historical artistry and contemporary commentary. He invites viewers to question their assumptions about art, its creators, and the mechanisms by which it is valued and categorised. The artwork serves as a bridge, connecting disparate eras and ideologies with a deftness that is thought-provoking while accessible.

Rembrandt: Exhibition History

Banksy vs. Bristol Museum, Bristol Museum, Bristol, 2009

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