Janet Laurence’s The matter of the masters is inspired by conservation research and analysis undertaken on Dutch old master paintings in the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands, especially works by Rembrandt. The field of paintings conservation, particularly the study of artist’s materials and their origins, is of interest to Laurence who explores similar intersections of art, science and nature in her multi-disciplinary practice.
Rembrandt’s paintings have been the focus of forensic examination partly because very few details of his studio practice were recorded during his lifetime. The mystery and intrigue surrounding his materials and working methods was so great that he was likened to a sorcerer and an alchemist by his admirers. Here, Laurence poetically illuminates an element of chemistry and alchemy in Rembrandt’s paintings by highlighting the incredible processes of transmutation that animal and plant matter have undergone to become a work of art.
Laurence explores the ‘physiology of a painting’ in her modular vitrine and haunting images derived from botanical illustrations and x-ray fluroescence scans. She has sourced from natural history collections raw pigments and binders commonly found in paintings and presents these substances like scientific experiments or specimens in a ‘cabinet of curiosity’. In providing an artistic interpretation of the palette of Rembrandt and other Dutch masters, Laurence stresses that all matter stems from the environment and that nature and culture are deeply entwined.
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