'Rembrandt’s Century' displays Dutch masters' drawings at De Young Museum

There are many gems in “Rembrandt’s Century,” but perhaps none quite as charming as the engraving of a dozing tabby cat oblivious to the panicky mouse behind him.

“The Large Cat” by Cornelis Visscher is one of the most famous animal prints of the 17th century. It is one of more than 200 rarely seen prints and drawings, taken largely from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s collections, in “Rembrandt’s Century,” on view at the de Young Museum through June 2.

The exhibition complements “Girl with a Pearl Earring” in the adjacent galleries and also looks at the artistic achievements of the Dutch Golden Age.

“Girl With a Pearl Earring” will draw thousands of visitors before it ends; it would be a pity if any of them rushed by “Rembrandt’s Century” without stopping to peruse what is offered.

One of the challenges museums face is how to present art to young children whose parents are eager to expose them to important masterpieces that inevitably draw huge crowds.

“Rembrandt’s Century” offers familiar things such as cows, sunflowers and butterflies, and there are enough works on display that viewing them isn’t quite so daunting.

At the center of the exhibition are etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn. Whether it’s a picture of a family of beggars receiving alms or a sleeping puppy, it is the incredible detail that moves and engages the viewer immediately.

“While Rembrandt never set foot outside Holland, his etchings traveled far and wide, spreading his influence well beyond his immediate students and crossing geographical and cultural borders to inspire artists and collectors throughout the 17th-century art world,” says exhibition curator James Ganz.

Rembrandt produced nearly 300 prints during his career, including many self-portraits.

He was fascinated by natural wonders like shells and collected them. Still lifes with shells were a frequent choice for certain Dutch and Flemish artists; a highlight of the exhibition is Jacques Linard’s “Still Life of Exotic Shells on a Boîte de Copeaux.” The oil painting shows more than a dozen exotic shells, three of them sitting atop a simple wooden box.

Visitors will also enjoy looking for the pair of lovers hidden in the bushes of Rembrandt’s “The Landscape with the Three Trees.” Take along a young pair of eyes if you can; on a recent visit, several middle-aged viewers struggled to find them.

Rembrandt’s Century

  • Where: De Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, S.F.
  • When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; show closes June 2
  • Tickets: $16 to $26
  • Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.deyoungmuseum.org

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