“His leg is locked, like this,” says Rodeo Drive’s Galerie Michael owner and Rembrandt scholar Michael Schwartz, who looks absolutely at home amid his gallery’s superb works of art. He’s tall; in his full suit he has the air of a distinguished professor—or, more correctly, he looks like exactly the type of man one would expect to find on this particularly rarefied street. Schwartz assumes Adam’s pose, jutting one leg forward, and continues, “Adam is locked in an extraordinary battle, a battle we face all the time within ourselves. The hand out is a sign of openness, but it also means, ‘Stop.’ He can’t, can’t resist Eve. He can’t resist this woman.”
It’s evident that what sets Schwartz apart from your typical seller (aside from some 35 years of experience) is that he is absolutely in love with his art— particularly his Rembrandts, and particularly this etching, made in 1638.
Of course, he would be the first to tell you that the etchings are not really his at all.
“Collectors are only custodians,” Schwartz says. “You might possess a Rembrandt, but you never own one. Still, to possess one of the greatest treasures of the western world—that’s pretty exciting. To think of taking a piece of paper that was in Rembrandt’s hand in 1638, something that has lasted all the way to this century, and the energy and the power and majesty of Rembrandt’s genius still exist in that piece of art.” He stops, holds two hands out and smiles. “Rembrandt held it in his hands.” As Schwartz tells it, Adam and Eve was not always seen as art because it was an etching. Etchings were used mainly to illustrate world events. They were not beautiful, not idealized—not art.
Today, this idea seems strange at least, if not appalling. For Rembrandt, it was a ticket to artistic freedom. He used etching to push the boundaries of art—what it dealt with, what it looked like—away from the severe eye of the Artists’ Guild.
He made the figures of Adam and Eve human, with all of the emotion and imperfection that word implies. In doing so, he changed the art world forever.
Adam and Eve is framed now, hanging under a spotlight in the cool, lush-carpeted hall of Galerie Michael. But for Schwartz—and for all who come to see the masterpiece—it still hums, still somehow alive with the energy that created it 400 years ago.
“What more thrilling thing can there be,” Schwartz wonders, “than perceiving the Dawn of Creation by the Dawn of Creation?”
Image: St. Jerome Reading, Rembrandt. 1634. Etching on laid paper. Image courtesy Galerie Michael.