It is said that Rembrandt was in Hull for quite a while, to paint several seafaring men’s pictures, or perhaps to escape from his debtors in The Netherlands. Whether true or not, Rembrandt van Rijn’ painting The Shipbuilder and his Wife, on show at the Ferens Museum in 2017, depicts a couple, identified in 1970 as Jan Rijcksen (1560/2-1637) and his wife Griet Jans. He is portrayed working on what looks like a treatise on shipbuilding, with inscriptions on the various papers naming the sitter, the artist and the date, 1633. Married couples are usually shown at this date as two separate portraits. Here, Rembrandt has created a composition with two portraits together into a single image. The figures overlap and their interaction is vivid: Griet Jans has burst into the room (her hand still on the door), interrupting her husband with a message in her
The written word can be personal and censored to the rest of us but then can easily become public – for example, we’ll never know what was in the note to the Shipbuilder, whereas – for example- private Government notes about Brexit negotiations suddenly became very public (in November 2016, notes carried by a politician’s aide that included the line "have cake and eat it" were spotted by the media and widely reported).
What is the message in the letter Griet Jans is holding? We invited eight people living and working in Hull, from different generations and different walks of life, to write this letter, fictional or fact, from their own perspective, situation, or concerns. The letters were performed as audio pieces, and installed, on headphones, near the carpet and the painting of Rembrandt.
Benji, once Admiral of the Humber] but always an Evertonian; John father of two; Laura not afraid to be different; Kirsten, specialist in Dutch painting; Magnus, friend of a fishermen; Sabine, Swiss resident in Hull for fifteen years; and Paul first in the family to attend university.