MILWAUKEE (AP) -- It's not unusual for artists to gain esteem after death. But more than three centuries later? Dutch artist Jan Lievens painted, drew and etched — many times on a large scale — portraits, character studies, religious and allegorical images and landscapes in the 1600s. But his career was overshadowed by fellow Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn, who was born in Leiden in the Netherlands just a year before Lievens, studied with the same master and lived nearby. Now 335 years after Lievens' death, the National Gallery of Art along with the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam have organized "Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered" — the first Lievens' exhibition in English and in the United States. More than 100,000 people saw it during its recently completed 2 1/2-month first stop at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Curator of northern Baroque painting, Arthur Wheelock Jr., said it was well attended, considering few know of Lievens. It starts at the Milwaukee Art Museum on Saturday, and includes about 45 paintings and 80 drawings and prints, about a quarter of which are from private collections from around the world. "To me it was one of the most exciting shows I've ever done," Wheelock said. "Just the sense of discovery about Lievens in relation to Rembrandt. You're seeing Rembrandt through Lievens' eyes rather than what traditionally has been done: seeing Lievens through Rembrandt's eyes." Wheelock and Milwaukee Art Museum's director of exhibitions Laurie Winters said they want the exhibit to make art lovers and historians reassess Lievens. "He was very successful during his career and then he got lost and so we are trying to pull him into the light and give him the recognition he deserves," Winters said. Lievens' works were often attributed to other artists, including Rembrandt. In fact, nine exhibition paintings were originally attributed to Rembrandt, considered by many the greatest artist of the Dutch Golden age. Wheelock said any discussion of Lievens was usually about his work when the pair were close in Leiden in the 1620s and early 1630s. But Lievens' later career was "forgotten and dismissed." Wheelock said Lievens succeeded, maybe even more so than Rembrandt, in his early years, getting major commissions for the royal court, religious institutions and leaders of Dutch society. Among the reasons Winters and Wheelock say Lievens got left behind: —Rembrandt was considered a genius, so people assumed any good painting had to be done by him. —Lievens moved often and didn't establish a home base as Rembrandt did in Amsterdam. —Lievens changed his painting styles through the years — unlike Rembrandt — experimenting in Flemish and Venetian modes, and ended up adopting more of an international style. So his work didn't fit into historical assessments of that period, which generally focused on style in individual cities. —Lievens had a difficult personality. —A lot of Lievens' work is large and inaccessible. —Historians may have thought Rembrandt more interesting because he portrayed himself as more of the dark, brooding individual in his self-portraits, as opposed to Lievens who painted himself as adept and elegant. Some even referred to Lievens as Rembrandt's follower or student, but Wheelock said they were friends and rivals, and likely learned from each other. They even painted versions of the same subjects, leading some to believe they shared a studio. Rembrandt was credited at one point with inventing the use of the blunt end of a brush to scratch into the paint and produce texture. But Winters said Rembrandt took that from Lievens. Winters became interested in Lievens in 1997 when she saw two Lievens paintings in the bedroom of Milwaukee gallery owner Alfred Bader, who loaned them to the exhibition. She went to Wheelock, the two talked about it over the years and they started organizing it five years ago. The idea may have originated with Winters, but she said Wheelock compiled the research and the 308-page catalog. When word got around that they were doing the show, the price for Lievens' work jumped, Winters said. She didn't know whether it was coincidence or because of the show. The exhibition starts with Lievens' first known painting "Old Woman Reading," possibly of his grandmother, done when he was between 14 and 16. It's dated 1621-1623. Wheelock said Rembrandt didn't start painting independently until 1625 or 1626. Rembrandt even backdated his early work to make it look like he was working at the same time or ahead of Lievens, Winters said. Rembrandt may have admired Lievens. Both painted "Raising of the Lazarus" but Rembrandt acquired Lievens' version and hung it on his mantle. He also owned some of Lievens' landscapes. Winters said much is unknown about Lievens. He spent five years in London and no one has found a single painting from that period. The last exhibition of his work was in Germany in 1979. The Milwaukee exhibition runs through April 26. Its last stop is the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam, starting May 17.
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