Self Portrait, 1669

Self Portrait, 1669

Last Sunday, while my friends in France gathered in the millions to support freedom of expression, I gathered my little family and we ventured into central London in support of the arts. We went to meet Master Rembrandt van Rijn at London’s National Gallery.

It was a phenomenal exhibit. The curators organized and mounted a fine show. They provided numerous user experiences, catering to most adult learning styles.

But they missed an opportunity to take the experience that one step further: to make it a shade richer and more accessible to a younger audience.

Let me explain…

On display were famous painted masterpieces as well as rare drawings and prints representing Rembrandt’s last 19 years of creative activity. It was a period of bold, explosive growth for the artist that would earn him the reputation as the greatest master of the Dutch Golden Age.

Entitled Rembrandt: The Late Works, the exhibit offered us a snapshot of an artist in constant motion, forever pushing boundaries, multitasking, simultaneously producing for money; as a means for self-reflection; and for the sole sake of artistic experimentation. His main preoccupations in these final years were the play of light, the subject of everyday life, and unlocking the secrets of the masters. His late works express moments of intimacy, contemplation, conflict, and reconciliation. They were full of self-scrutiny and thus very personal.  

I learned all this thanks to the commendable efforts of the National Gallery curatorial team to educate its viewing public. As stated above they catered to the most typical learning styles of the adult visitor:

  • They mounted an impressive and well-organized visual presentation;

  • They threw in audio accompaniment, making handheld audio-guides available to those patrons wishing to hear about the various works and collections in the exhibit;

  • For those preferring the human touch, they offered personal guided tours;

  • And for those guests, like my Lily, who would rather wander an exhibit self-directed, they provided a print guide.

Following Lily’s lead, I took the text guide. It included information on every single work in the show – a rare thing at a museum exhibition! I was impressed to find it included reproductions of the works the master emulated and copied, as well as examples of prints he reworked and perfected over time. Through the printed exhibition supplement, we were encouraged to compare his style to that of his mentors. We were compelled, as well, to search several examples of the same subject for the ways in which Rembrandt changed and improved his own technique over time. It was a kind of visual treasure hunt or seek and find. See an example from the exhibit, below:

The Three Crosses, 1653, Drypoint, 1st state of 5

The Three Crosses, 1653,
Drypoint, 1st state of 5

The Three Crosses, 1653, Drypoint, 3rd state of 5

The Three Crosses, 1653,
Drypoint, 3rd state of 5

The Three Crosses, 1653, Drypoint, 4th state of 5

The Three Crosses, 1653,
Drypoint, 4th state of 5

But the reproductions were black and white, and tiny. They were difficult to view in the low, atmospheric light of the gallery. And I couldn’t help but imagine how much more fun this game-like aspect of the museum experience would have been on a touchscreen. Indeed, I was left thinking that if only all the elements developed by the curatorial team – audio, textual, visual – had been pulled together in the form of an interactive mobile app, the exhibit would have bridged the 17th and 21st centuries. Instead, it remained squarely within the 20th.

It is exactly this type of 21st century experience that we at Time Traveler Tours & Tales aim to create for the benefit of history and museum education and educational tourism the world over. We do it for the youth. Because here’s what we know:

  • Touchscreen devices have transformed the ways we interact with both content and the environment. They have revolutionized the way we learn.

  • Today’s young people are digital natives. They expect 21st century experiences.

  • The proliferation of touchscreen devices offers an opportunity to turn kids on to history -- and the greatest examples of creative human expression -- at the tips of your fingers and in the palm of your hand.

What’s more, these are tomorrow’s patrons of the arts. And we see no reason not to turn them on to Rembrandt today. Do you?

Do you have a memorable museum experience?

We would love to know about it.

Please share your stories here.

Sarah & Team TTT&T