The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, through May 21
The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers
The 17th-century Dutch artist Hercules Segers “had only a passing interest in reality,” said Roberta Smith in The New York Times. At a time when realism was the rage among his peers, this contemporary of Rembrandt was dreaming up surreal landscapes while turning printmaking to purposes it had never served before. Instead of seeking to duplicate monochrome images over and over, Segers boldly varied the colors of both his inks and his paper, playing with emotional effects while producing images that could be sold as one-of-a-kinds. Rembrandt himself was a fan, but because most of Segers’ works were lost, “his audaciousness has yet to receive its due.” The Met is trying to right that wrong, and its new Segers show, which gathers 102 of the 182 or so of the artist’s known surviving prints, emerges as “one of the dreamiest, most immersive presentations of the year.”
If only the exhibition’s curators weren’t such killjoys, said Christopher Benfey in NewYorkReviewOfBooks.com. Studying Mossy Tree, an “absolutely stunning” circa 1625 print, “I couldn’t kick the impression that Segers must have been looking at Chinese prototypes.” Yet the show’s catalog rejects the possibility of Chinese influence outright, even though Segers was probably the first artist in Europe to work on paper imported from the Far East. And why should we listen to so-called experts who claim Segers avoided depicting the human figure because he struggled to do so? “I think he deliberately attributed character, even personality, to seemingly inanimate objects,” like trees and ruins and the stack of books in a circa 1618–22 print that might be Europe’s first still life. It’s “a work of audacious originality,” by an artist who by now really should be familiar to us all.