Rembrandt, Cigars, and Pop Art

Rembrandt van Rijn, Syndics of the Drapers' Guild, 1662
Dutch Masters Cigar Advertisement

Renaissance man and artist Larry Rivers is often referred to by scholars as the Godfather of Pop Art. Though his early career in the 1950s was defined by more traditional subjects and narrative themes, by 1960 he started to turn to everyday objects and commercial images for inspiration. His Dutch Masters series, begun in 1963, was not, as the name would imply, inspired directly by an artist, but by a brand of cigars whose billboard he had seen on the highway. The brand utilized Rembrandt’s Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild for their own commercial ends. Rivers, who was no stranger to reusing iconic, established imagery in his creations (one of his early successes was his 1953 painting Washington Crossing the Delaware), was immediately taken by this promotional reincarnation of a masterpiece and explored the theme over the course of several works. The resulting paintings, lithographs, and sculptures are wry, multivalent takes on twentieth century consumerism and the relationship between capitalism and high culture.

One night in the early sixties I passed something on the Long Island Expressway...The billboard advertising cigars, Dutch Masters. I realized it was sort of perfect...You're looking at Rembrandt – in neon! It was...irresistible.

Larry Rivers