For those of you who'll be in the triangle between now and mid January, I recommend the North Carolina Museum of Art's exhibit, "Rembrandt in America." The exhibit focuses on Rembrandts collected in the United States and the theme that runs through this is what should be considered a Rembrandt? It builds around the attributions made by the NC Museum of Art's first director, who was (it seems) extremely generous in attributions of paintings to Rembrandt. And at several points they invite viewers to make their own judgments about attribution. It's a very accessible exhibit and well worth the $18 admission -- or you might just want to go ahead and purchase a membership for $40, which gets you one admission ticket.
I'd hoped that they might have The Mill there, but perhaps National Gallery wouldn't loan it -- though there are several portraits from the National Gallery, as well as museums in Cleveland, Detroit, and Indianapolis and some from private collections. Among my favorites were two portraits of people with books -- Old Woman with a Book and Portrait of a Man Reading, from the Clark Institute -- and A Scholar by Candlelight, from a private collection in Milwaukee. The historian of the book part of my personality causes me to take issue with the gallery's discussion of "Portrait of a Man Reading." It says something along the lines of this shows the contemplative life. While books are, obviously, often associated with contemplation, they're also quite often -- especially law books -- also associated with activity. As legal historians increasingly talk of law as a form of technology (Chris Tomlins, for instance, refers to law as one of the tools of colonization in Bound for Freedom -- and to go down a number of steps in sophistication, Stephen Davis and I talk of trusts as a form of technology in antebellum Alabama), we may also think of books as part of that technolgy. It is quite possible that the Portrait of a Man Reading depicts a man using a book to plan some activity. (I have that sense particularly because he has a finger holding a page in another part of the book; it seems very much that this reader is active.)