I spent an interesting morning in Maggi Hambling's studio yesterday discussing Rembrandt's self-portraits. Hambling is a passionate enthusiast for 'Ronnie Rembrandt's' ability to communicate about mortality and life through his paintings. During her time as the first artist in residence at the National Gallery she spent many hours with Rembrandt's paintings, and spoke eloquently of their depth. Each time she returns to the paintings she finds something new in them. She treasures a faded postcard of a favourite Rembrandt, the Self Portrait as Zeuxis now in Cologne: our discussion of the the laughing face, captured in visible brushstrokes, led into the revelation that Max Wall managed to sustain a convincing laugh for three quarters of an hour while she was painting him!
The interview will be part of a BBC Radio 4 programme 'Rembrandt Today' ( to be broadcast at 11.30 a.m. on 26th October 2006, produced by Faith Lawrence), which commemorates the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt's birth. The programme focuses on the late Rembrandt self-portrait holding a maul stick and palette, now at Kenwood House in Highgate and will include interviews with an art historian and a critic as well as with artists Maggi Hambling and Idris Khan. One aspect of this painting is the mirror-reversal: X-rays reveal that Rembrandt originally painted a mirror image with a paintbrush in his left hand (he was right handed), but later modified this. We'll be examining the question of whether we read facial asymmetries differently depending on laterality: John Walter makes so-called 'true mirrors' which by using mirrors fixed at right angle to each other allow the viewer to see him or herself as others see them (i.e. are non-reversing). He argues that reading character from faces involves a left/right awareness.