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Rembrandt himself, in Arkansas 

The Arts Center lands "Treasures of Kenwood House."

click to enlarge PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST: by Rembrandt van Rijn, ca. 1665, from Kenwood House.
  • PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST: by Rembrandt van Rijn, ca. 1665, from Kenwood House.

A self-portrait by Rembrandt that recently traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Portraits by Gainsborough and Van Dyck. Paintings by Frans Hals, Sir Joshua Reynolds and J.M.W. Turner. They are the treasures of Kenwood House, London, and they are coming to the Arkansas Arts Center June 7.

The 48 masterworks of the 17th and 18th centuries have seldom left London, much less made a trip to Arkansas. But Kenwood House, an early 17th century manor in Hampstead also known as the Iveagh Bequest , is being refurbished and its collection sent on tour in the United States. Arts Center Director Todd Herman finagled a stop on the tour here when he learned the renovations were taking longer than expected and there was time to work in one more venue. The Arts Center received two $100,000 pledges to bring the tour to Arkansas, which, because of its expense, will be a ticketed show, at $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $6 for students. (Members will get in free.)

The Rembrandt painting (circa 1665) is one of the rare self-portraits in which Rembrandt depicts himself as an artist as an old man, "late in life, as someone who has lived a worldly existence," and one of the few in which he paints himself by his easel, Herman said. When it was shown at the Metropolitan last year in "Rembrandt at Work: The Great Self-Portrait From Kenwood House," the New York Times arts writer Roberta Smith said it was "wonderful almost beyond words."

Some of the other treasures: "Princess Henrietta of Lorraine, Attended by a Page" (1634), a nearly 7-foot-tall portrait by Peter Paul Rubens' student Anthony Van Dyck, depicting a woman dressed in sumptuous silks and lace attended by a page dressed in red velvet and holding flowers; Thomas Gainsborough's 95-by-61-inch portrait of "Mary, Countess Howe," painted in the 1700s, which Herman said also has "wallpower"; and Sir Joshua Reynolds' portrait of Louisa Manners (1779), which places her next to a classical column as a way of imparting her importance in society.

The exhibition also includes large paintings by Francois Boucher, an 18th century painter of romantic scenes, and what Herman called a "typical Turner landscape" of stormy seas. "Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight," an 18th century painting by Joseph Wright of Derby, is a chiaroscuro work that is both being charming and wryly sexual, thanks to the expression on the little girls' faces and the kitten's tail, which curls up between its legs.

The Arts Center opened 50 years ago with an exhibition of Old Masters from the Metropolitan. The Kenwood House show will be a "bookend" to the Arts Center's celebration of that anniversary and "puts an exclamation point on the fact that we have an international collection of stature," Herman said.

"Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London" runs through Sept. 8. In tribute, lift a Guinness to the man who collected the works, Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh and heir to the brewery that bears his name.

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