1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rembrandt
REMBRANDT (1606–1669). Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn, Dutch painter, was born in Leiden on the 15th of July 1606. It is only within the past fifty years that we have come to know anything of his real history. A tissue of fables formerly represented him as ignorant, boorish and avaricious. These fictions, resting on the loose assertions of Houbraken (De Groote Schouburgh, 1718), have been cleared away by the untiring researches of Scheltema and other Dutchmen, notably by C. Vosmaer, whose elaborate work (Rembrandt, sa vie et ses œuvres, 1868, 2nd ed., 1877) is the basis of our knowledge of the man and of the chronological development of the artist. Rembrandt’s high position in European art rests on the originality of his mind, the power of his imagination, his profound sympathy with his subjects, the boldness of his system of light and shade, the thoroughness of his modelling, his subtle colour, and above all on his intense humanity. He was great in conception and in execution, a poet as well as a painter, an idealist and also a realist; and this rare union is the secret of his power. From his dramatic action and mastery of expression Rembrandt has been well called “the Shakespeare of Holland.”
In the beginning of the 17th century Holland had entered on her grand career of national enterprise. Science and literature flourished in her universities, poetry and the stage were favoured by her citizens, and art found a home not only in the capital but in the provincial towns. It was a time also of new ideas. Old conventional forms in religion, philosophy and art had fallen away, and liberty was inspiring new conceptions. There were no church influences at work to fetter the painter in the choice and treatment of his subject, no academies to prescribe rules. Left to himself, therefore, the artist, painted the life of the people among whom he lived and the subjects which interested them. It was thus a living history that he painted scenes from the everyday life and amusements of the people, as well as the civic rulers, the “regents” or governors of the hospitals and the heads of the guilds, and the civic guards who defended their towns. So also with religious pictures. The dogmas and legends of the Church of Rome were no' longer of interest to such a nation; but the Bible was read and studied with avidity, and from its page the artist drew directly the scenes of the simple narrative. Perhaps the earliest trace of this new aspect of Bible story is to be found in the pictures painted in Rome about the beginning of the 17th century by Adam Elsheimer of Frankfort, who had undoubtedly a great influence on the Dutch painters studying in Italy. These in their turn carried back to Holland the simplicity and the picturesque effect which they found in Elsheimer’s work. Among these, the precursors of Rembrandt, may be mentioned Moeyaert, Ravesteyn, Lastman, Pinas, Honthorst and Bramer. Influenced doubtless by these painters, Rembrandt determined to work out his own ideas of art on Dutch soil, resisting apparently every inducement to visit Italy. Though an admirer of the great Italian masters, he yet maintained his own individuality.
Rembrandt was born at No. 3 Weddesteg, on the rampart at Leiden overlooking the Rhine. He was the fourth son of Gerrit Harmens van Rijn, a well-to-do miller. As the older boys had been sent to trade, his parents resolved that he should enter a learned profession. With this view he was sent to the High School at Leiden; but the boy soon manifested his dislike of the prospect, and determined to be a painter. Accordingly he was placed for three years under Swanenburch, a painter of no great merit, who enjoyed some reputation from his having studied in Italy. His next master was Lastman of Amsterdam, a painter of very considerable power. In Lastman’s works we can trace the germs of the colour and sentiment of his greater pupil, though his direct influence cannot have been great, as it is said by Orlers that Rembrandt remained with him only six months, after which time he returned to Leiden, about 1623. During the early years of his life at Leiden Rembrandt seems to have devoted himself entirely to studies, painting and etching the people around him, the beggars and cripples, every picturesque face and form he could get hold of. Life, character, and above all light were the aims of these studies. His mother was a frequent model, and we can trace in her features the strong likeness to her son, especially in the portraits of himself at an advanced age. In the collection of Rembrandt's works at Amsterdam in 1898 were shown three portraits of his father, who died about 1632; nine are catalogued altogether. The last portrait of his mother is that of the Vienna Museum, painted the year before her death in 1640. One of his sisters also frequently sat to him, and Bode suggests that she must have accompanied him to Amsterdam and kept house for him till he married. This conjecture rests on the number of portraits of the same young woman painted in the early years of his stayin Amsterdam and before he met his bride. Then, again, in the many portraits of himself painted in his early life we can see with what zeal he set himself to master every form of expression, now grave, now gay-how thoroughly he learned to model the human face not from the outside but from the inner man. Dr Bode gives fifty as the number of the portraits of himself (perhaps sixty is nearer the actual number), most of them painted in youth and in old age, the times when he had leisure for such work. Rembrandt's earliest pictures were painted at Leiden, from 1627 to 1631. Bode mentions about nine pictures as known to belong to these years, chiefly paintings of single hgurts, as “ St Paul in Prison ” and “ St lerome ”; but now and then compositions of several, as “ Samson in Prison " and “ Presentation in the Temple.” The prevailing tone of all these pictures is a greenish grey, the effect being somewhat cold and heavy. The gallery at Cassel gives us a typical example of his studies of the heads of old men, firm and hard in workmanship and full of detail, the effects of light and shade being carefully thought out. His work was now attracting the attention of lovers of art in the great city of Amsterdam; and, urged by their calls, he removed about 1631 to live and die there. At one bound he leaped into the position of the first portrait painter of the city, and received numerous commissions. During the early years of his residence there are at least forty known portraits from his hand, firm and solid in manner and staid in expression. It has been remarked that the fantasy in which he indulged through life was reserved only for the portraits of himself and his immediate Connexions. The excellent painter Thomas de Keyser was then in the height of his power, and his influence is to be traced in some of Rembrandt's smaller portraits. Pupils also now flocked to his house in the Bloemgracht, among them Gerard Douw, who was nearly of his own age. The first important work executed by Rembrandt in Amsterdam is “Simeon in the Temple, ” of the Hague Museum, a fine early example of his treatment of light and shade and of his subtle colour. The concentrated light falls on the principal figure, while the background is full of mystery. The surface is smooth and enamel-like, and all the details are carefully wrought out, while the action of light on the mantle of Simeon shows how soon he had felt the magical effect of the play of colour. In the life-sized “ Lesson in Anatomy ” of 1632 we have the first of the great portrait subjects-Tulp the anatomist, the early friend of Rembrandt, discoursing to his seven associates, who are ranged with eager heads round the foreshortened body. The subject had been treated in former years by the Mierevelts, A. Pietersen and others, for the Hall of the Surgeons. But it was reserved for Rembrandt to make it a great picture by the grouping of the expressive portraits and by the completeness of the conception. The colour is quiet and the handling of the brush timid and precise, while the light and shade are somewhat harsh and abrupt. But it is a marvellous picture for a young man of twenty-five, and it is generally accepted as marking a new departure in the career of the painter.
About Joo pictures are known to have come from Rembrandt's own han . It is impossible to notice more than the prominent works. Besides the Pellicorne family portraits of 1632 now in the Wallace Collection, we have the calligraphist Cop nol of the Cassel Gallery, interesting in the first place as an earl; example of Rembrandts method of giving permanent interest to a portrait by converting it into a picture. He invests it with a sense of life by a momentary expression as Coppenol raises his head towards the spectator while he is mending a quill. The same motive is to be found in the “ Shipbuilder, " 1633 (Buckingham Palace), who looks up from his work with a sense of interruption at the approach of his wife. Coppenol was painted thrice and etched twice by the artist, the last of whose portrait etchings (1661) was the Coppenol of large size. The two small pictures of “The Philosopher " of the Lénuvre date fam 1633, delicate in execution and full of mysterious e ect.
The year 1634 is especially remarkable as that of Rembrandt's marriage with Saskia van Uylenborch, a beautiful, fair-haired Frisian maiden of good connexions. Till her death in 1642 she was the centre of his life and art, and lives for us in many a canvas as well as in her own portraits. On her the painter lavished his magical power, painting her as the Queen Artemisia or Bathsheba, and as the wife of Samson-always proud of her long fair locks, and covering her with pearls and gold as precious in their play of colour as those of the Indies. A joyous pair we see them in the Dresden Gallery, Saskia sitting on his knee while he laughs gaily, or promenading together in a fine picture of 1636, or putting the last touches of ornament to her toilette, for thus Bode interprets the so-called “ Burgomaster Pancras and his Wife.” These were his happy days when he painted himself in his exuberant fantasy, and adorned himself, at least in his portraits, in scarfs and feathers and gold chains. Saskia brought him a marriage portion of forty thousand guilders, a large sum for those times, and she brought him also a large circle of good friends in Amsterdam. She bore him four children, Rumbartus and two girls, successively named Cornelia after his beloved mother, all of whom died in infancy, and Titus, named after Titia a sister of Saskia. We have several noble portraits of Saskia, a good type of the beauty of Holland, all painted with the utmost love and care, at Cassel (1633), at Dresden (1641), and a posthumous one (1643) at Berlin. But the greatest in workmanship and most pathetic in expression seems to us, though it is decried by Bode, that of Antwerp (1641), in which it is impossible not to trace declining health and to find a melancholy presage of her death.
One of Rembrandts greatest portraits of 1633 is the superb full length of Martin Daey, which, witl1 that of Ma ame Daey, painted according to Vosmaer some years later, formed one of the ornaments of the Van Loon collection at Amsterdam. Both now belong to Baron Gustave de Rothschild. From the firm detailed execution of this portrait one turns with wonder to the broader handling of the “ Old Woman " (Frangoise van /Vasserhoven), aged eighty-three, in the National Gallery, of the same year, remarkable for the effect of reflected light and still more for the sympathetic rendering of character. .
The life of Samson supplied many subjects in these early days. The so-called “ Count of Gueldres threatening his Father-in-law " of the Berlin Gallery has been restored to its proper signification by M. Kolloff, who finds it to be Samson. It is forced and violent in its action. The greatest of this series, and one of the prominent Eictures of Rembrandt's work, is the “ Marriage of Samson, " of the resden Gallery, painted in 1638. Here Rembrandt gives the rem to his imagination and makes the scene live before us. Except the bride (Saskia), who sits calm and grand on a dais in the centre of the feast, with the full light again playing on her flowing locks and wealth of jewels, all is animated and full of bustle. Samf son, evidently a Rembrandt of fantasy, leans over a chair propound mg his riddle to the Philistine lords. In execution it is a great advance on former subject pictures; it is bolder in manner, and we have here signs of his approaching love of warmer tones of red and yellow.
The story of Susannah also occupied him in these early years, and he returned to the subject in 1641 and 1653. “The Bather ” of the National Gallery may be another interpretation of the same theme. In all of these pictures the woman is coarse in type and lumpy in form, though the modelling is soft and round, the effect which Rembrandt always strove to Igain. Beauty of form was outside his art. But the so-called “ anae ” (1636) at St Petersburg is a sufficient reiply to those who deny his ability ever to appreciate the beauty o the nude female form. It glows with colour and life, and the blood seems to pulsate under the warm skin. In the picturesque story of Tobit Rembrandt found much to interest him, as we see in the beautiful small picture of the d'Arenberg Collection at Brussels: Sight is being restored to the aged Tobias, while with infinite tenderness his wife holds the old man's hand cares singly. The momentary action is complete, and the picture goes straight to the heart. In the Berlin Gallery he paints the anxiety of the parents as they wait the return of their son. In 1637 he painted the fine picture now in the Louvre of the “ Flight of the Angel "; and the same subject is grandly treated by him. apparently about 1645, in the picture exhibited in the winter exhibition at Burlington House in 1885. Reverence and awe are shown in every attitude of the Tobit family. A similar lofty treatment is to be found in the “Christ as the Gardener,” appearing to Mary, of 1638 (Buckingham Palace);
We have now arrived at the year 1640, the threshold of his second manner, which extended to 1654, the middle age of Rembrandt. During the latter part of the previous decade we find the shadows more transparent and the blending of light and shade more perfect. There is a growing power in every part of his art. The coldness of his first manner had disappeared, and the tones were gradually changing into golden-brown. He had passed through what Bode calls his “Sturm-und-Drang” period of exaggerated expression, as in the Berlin Samson, and had attained to a truer, calmer form of dramatic expression, of which the “Manoah” of Dresden is a good example (1641). The portraits painted “to order” became more rare about this time, and those which we have are chiefly friends of his circle, such as the “Mennonite Preacher” (C. C. Ansloo) and the “Gilder,” a fine example of his golden tone, formerly in the Morny collection and now in America. His own splendid portrait (1640) in the National Gallery illustrates the change in his work. It describes the man well-strong and robust, with powerful head, firm and compressed lips and determined chin, with heavy eyebrows, separated by a deep vertical furrow, and with eyes of keen penetrating glance—altogether a self-reliant man that would carry out his own ideas, careless whether his popularity waxed or waned. The fantastic rendering of himself has disappeared; he seems more conscious of his dignity and position. He has now many friends and pupils, and numerous commissions, even from the stadtholder; he has bought a large house in the Breedstraat, in which during the next sixteen years of his life he gathers his large collection of paintings, engravings, armour and costume which figure afterwards in his inventory. His taste was wide and his purchases large, for he was joint owner with picture-dealers of paintings by Giorgione and Palma Vecchio, while for a high-priced Marcantonio Raimondi print he gave in exchange a line impression of his “ Christ Healing the Sick, ” which has since been known as the “ Hundred Guilder Print.” The stadtholder was not a prompt payer, and an interesting correspondence took place between Rembrandt and Constantin Huygens, the poet and secretary of the prince. The Rembrandt letters which have come down to us are few, and these are therefore of importance. Rembrandt puts a high value on the picture, which he says had been painted “ with much care and zeal, ” but he is wil-ling to take what the prince thinks proper; while to Huygens he sends a large picture as a present for his trouble in carrying through the business. There is here no sign of the grasping greed with which he has been charged, while his unselfish conduct is seen in the settlement of the family affairs at the death of his mother in 1640.
The year 1642 is remarkable for the great picture formerly known as the “Night Watch,” but now more correctly as the “Sortie of the Banning Cock Company,” another of the landmarks of Rembrandt's career, in which twenty-nine life-sized civic guards are introduced issuing pell-mell from their club house. Such gilds of arquebusiers had been painted admirably before by Ravesteyn and notably by Frans Hals, but Rembrandt determined to throw life and animation into the scene, which is full of bustle and movement. The dominant colour is the citron yellow uniform of the lieutenant, wearing a blue sash, while a Titian-like red dress of a musketeer, the black velvet dress of the captain, and the varied green of the girl and drummer, all produce a rich and harmonious effect. The background has become dark and heavy by accident or neglect, and the scutcheon on which the names are painted is scarcely to be seen. It is to be observed that, as proved by the copy by Gerrit Lundens in the National Gallery, it represents not a “night watch,” except in name, but a day watch.
But this year of great achievement was also the year of his great loss, for Saskia died in 1642, leaving Rembrandt her sole trustee for her son Titus, but with full use of the money till he should marry again or till the marriage of Titus. The words of the will express her love for her husband and her confidence in him. With her death his life was changed. Bode has remarked that there is a pathetic sadness in his pictures of the Holy Family-a favourite subject at this period of his life. All of these he treatswith the naive simplicity of Reformed Holland, giving us the real carpenter's shop and the mother watching over the Infant reverently and lovingly, with a fine union of realism and idealism.
The street in which he lived was full of Dutch and Portuguese Jews, and many a Jewish rabbi sat to him. He acce ted or invented their turbans and local dress as characteristic of the people. But in his religious pictures it is not the costume we look at; what strikes us is the profound perception of the sentiment of the story, making them true to all time and independent of local circumstance. A notable example of this feeling is to be found in the “Woman Taken in Adultery” of the National Gallery, painted in 1644 in the manner of the “Simeon” of the Hague. Beyond the ordinary claims ofart, it commands our attention from the grand conception of the painter who here, as in other pictures and etchings, has invested Christ with a majestic dignity which recalls Lionardo and no other. A similar lofty ideal is to be found in his various renderings of .the “Pilgrims at Emmaus, " notably in the Louvre picture of 1648, in which, as Mrs jameson says, " he returns to those first spiritual principles which were always the dowry of ancient art." From the same year we have the “ Good Samaritan ” of the Louvre, the story of which is told with intense pathos. The helpless suffering of the wounded man, the curiosit of the boy on tiptoe, the excited faces at the upper window, are aff conveyed with masterly skill. In these last two pictures we find a broader touch and freer handling, while the tones pass into a dull yellow and brown with a marked predilection for deep rich red. Whether it was that this scheme of colour found no favour with the Amsterdamers, who, as Hoogstraten tells us, could not understand the “ Sortie, " it seems certain that Rembrandt was Hot invited to take any leading part in the celebration of the congress of Westphalia (1648).
Rembrandt touched no side of art without setting his mark on it, whether in still life, as in his dead birds or the “Slaughtered Ox” of the Louvre (with its repetitions at Glasgow and Budapest), or in his drawings of elephants and lions, all of which are instinct with life. But at this period of his, career we come upon a branch of his art on which he left, both in etching and in painting, the stamp of his genius, viz. landscape. Roeland Roghman, but ten years his senior, evidently influenced his style, for the resemblance between their works is so great that, as at Cassel, there has been confusion of authorship. Hercules Seghers also was much appreciated by Rembrandt, for at his sale eight pictures by this master figure in the inventory, and Vosmaer discovered that Rembrandt had worked on a plate by Seghers and had added figures to an etched “ Flight into Egypt." The earliest pure landscape known to us from Rembrandts hand is that at the Ryks Museum (1637–38), followed in the latter year by those at Brunswick, Cracow and Boston (U.S.A.), and that dated 1638 and belonging to Mr G. Rath in Budapest. Better known is the “ Winter Scene ” of Cassel (1646), silvery and delicate. As a rule in his painted landscape he aims at grandeur and poetical effect, as in the “ Repose of the Holy Family " of 1647 (formerly called the “Gipsies”), a moonlight effect, clear even in the shadows. The “Canal” of Lord Lansdowne, and the “ Mountain Landscape with Approaching Storm, ” the sun shining out behind the heavy clouds, are both conceived and executed in this spirit. A similar poetical vein runs through the “Castle on the Hill” of Cassel, in which the beams of the setting sun strike on the castle while the valley is sunk in the shades of approaching night. More powerful still is the weird effect of Lord Lansdowne's “Windmill,” with its glow of light and darkening shadows. In all these pictures light with its magical influences is the theme of the poet-painter. From the number of landscapes by himself in the inventory of his sale, it would appear that these grand works were not appreciated by his contemporaries. The last of the landscape series dates from 1655 or 1656, the close of the middle age or manhood of Rembrandt, a period of splendid power. In the “Joseph Accused by Potiphar's Wife” of 1654 we have great dramatic vigour and perfect mastery of expression, while the brilliant colour and glowing effect of light and shade attest his strength. To this period also belongs the great portrait of himself in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge.
But evil days were at hand. The long-continued wars and civil troubles had worn out the country, and money was scarce. Rembrandt's and doubtless Saskia's means were tied up in his house and in his large collection of valuable pictures, and we find Rembrandt borrowing considerable sums of money on the security of his house to keep things going. Perhaps, as Bode suggests, this was the reason of his extraordinary activity at this time. Then, unfortunately, in this year of 1654, we find Rembrandt involved in the scandal of having a child by his servant Hendrickje Jaghers or Stoffels, as appears by the books of the Reformed Church at Amsterdam. He recognized the child and gave it the name of Cornelia, after his much-loved mother, but there is no proof that he married the mother, and the probability is against such a marriage, as the provisions of Saskia/s will would in that case have come into force, and her fortune would have passed at once to her son Titus. Hendrickje seems to have continued to live with him, for we find her claiming a chest as her property at his sale in 1658. Doubtless she is the peasant girl of Rasdorf to whom Houbraken says Rembrandt was married. Sad as the story is, Hendrickje has an interest for us. Bode asserts that in his art there was always a woman in close relationship to Rembrandt and appearing in his work—his mother, his sister and then Saskia.
He also suggests that the beautiful portrait of the “Lady” in the Salon Carré of the Louvre and the “Venus and Cupid” of the same gallery may represent Hendrickje and her child. Both pictures belong to this date, and by their treatment are removed from the category of Rembrandt’s usual portraits. But if this is conjecture, we get nearer to fact when we look at the picture exhibited at Burlington House in 1883 to which tradition has attached the name of “Rembrandt’s Mistress,” now in the Edinburgh National Gallery. At a glance one can see that it is not the mere head of a model, as she lies in bed raising herself to put aside a curtain as if she heard a well-known footstep. It is clearly a woman in whom Rembrandt had a personal interest. The date is clearly 165— the fourth figure being illegible; but the brilliant carnations and masterly touch connect it with the “Potiphar’s Wife” of 1654 and the jaghers period. In 1656 Rembrandt’s financial affairs became more involved, and the Orphans’ Chamber transferred the house and ground to Titus, though Rembrandt was still allowed to take charge of Saskia’s estate. Nothing, however, could avert the ruin of the painter, who was declared bankrupt in July 1656, an inventory of all his property being ordered by the Insolvency Chamber. The first sale took place in 1657 in the Keizerskroon hotel; and the second in 1658, when the larger part of the etchings and drawings were disposed of—“collected by Rembrandt himself with much love and care,” says the catalogue. The sum realized, under 5000 guilders, was but a fraction of their value. The time was unfavourable over the whole of Europe for such sales, the renowned collection of Charles I. of England having brought but a comparatively small sum in 1653. Driven thus from his house, stripped of everything he possessed, even to his table linen, Rembrandt took a modest lodging in the same Keizerskroon hostelry (the amounts of his bills are on record), apparently without friends and thrown entirely on himself.
But this dark year of 1656 stands out prominently as one in which some of his greatest works were produced, as, for example, “John the Baptist preaching in the Wilderness,” of the Berlin Gallery, and “Jacob blessing the Sons of Joseph,” of the Cassel Gallery. It is impossible not to respect the man who, amid the utter ruin of his affairs, could calmly conceive and carry out such noble work. Yet even in his art one can see that the tone of his mind was sombre. Instead of the brilliancy of 1654 we have for two or three years a preference for dull yellows, reds and greys, with a certain uniformity of tone. The handling is broad and rapid, as if to give utterance to the ideas which crowded on his mind. There is less caressing of colour for its own sake, even less straining after vigorous effect of light and shade. Still the two pictures just named are among the greatest works of the master. To the same year belongs the “Lesson in Anatomy of Johann Deyman.” The subject is similar to the great Tulp of 1632 but his manner and power of colour had advanced so much that Sir Joshua Reynolds in his visit to Holland in 1781, was reminded by it of Michelangelo and Titian. Vosmaer ascribes to the same year, though Bode places it later, the famous “Portrait of Jan Six,” the future burgomaster, consummate in its ease and character, as Six descends the steps of his house drawing on his glove. The Connexion between Rembrandt and the great family of Six was long and close. In 1641, the mother of Six, Anna Wymer, had been painted with consummate skill by Rembrandt, who also executed in 1647 the beautiful etching of Six standing by a window reading his tragedy of Medea, afterwards illustrated by his friend. Now he paints his portrait in the prime of manhood, and in the same year of gloom paints for him the masterly “John the Baptist.” Six, if he could not avert the disaster of Rembrandt’s life, at least stood by him in the darkest hour, when certainly the creative energy of Rembrandt was in full play. The same period gives us the “Master of the Vineyard,” and the “Adoration of the Magi” of Buckingham Palace.
After the sale of the house in the Breedstraat, Rembrandt retired to the Rosengracht, an obscure quarter at the west end of the city. We are now drawing to the splendid close of his career in his third manner, in which his touch became broader, his impasto more solid and his knowledge more complete. we may mention the “Old Man with the Grey Beard” of the National Gallery (1657) and the “Bruyningh, the Secretary of the Insolvents’ Chamber,” of Cassel (1658), both leading up to the great portraits of the “Syndics of the Cloth Hall” of 1661. Nearly thirty years separate us from, the “Lesson in Anatomy,” years of long-continued observation and labour. The knowledge thus gathered, the problems solved, the mastery attained, are shown here in abundance. Rembrandt returns to the simplest gamut of colour, but shows his skill in the use of it, leaving on the spectator an impression of absolute enjoyment of the result, unconscious of the means. The plain burghers dealing with the simple concerns of their gild arrest our attention as if they were the makers of history. The live for ever; and we close our eyes to the strange perspective of the table.
In his old age Rembrandt continued to paint his own portrait as assiduously as in his youthful and happy days. About twenty of these portraits are known; a typical one is to be found in the National Gallery. All show the same self-reliant expression, though broken down indeed by age and the cares of a hard life.
About the year 1663 Rembrandt painted the (so-called) “Jewish Bride” of the Ryks Museum in Amsterdam, and the “Family Group” of Brunswick, the last and perhaps the most brilliant works of his life, bold and rapid in execution and marvellous in the subtle 'mixture and play of colours in which he seems to revel. The woman and children are painted with such love that the impression is conveyed that they represent a fancy family group of the painter in his old age. This idea received some confirmation from the supposed discovery that he left a widow Catherine Van Wyck and two children, but this theory falls to the ground, for de Roever has shown (Oud Holland, 1883) that Catherine was the widow of a marine painter Theunisz Blanckerhoff, who died about the same time as Rembrandt. The mistake arose from a miscopying of the register. The subject of these pictures is thus more mysterious than ever.
In 1668 Titus, the only son of Rembrandt, died, leaving one child, and on the 8th of October 1669 the great painter himself passed away, leaving two children, and was buried in the Wester Kerk. He had outlived his popularity, for his manner of painting, as we know from contemporaries, was no longer in favour with a people who preferred the smooth trivialities of Van der Werff and the younger Mieris, the leaders of an expiring school.
We must give but a short notice of Rembrandt’s achievements in etching. Here he stands out by universal confession as first, excelling by his unrivalled technical skill, his mastery of expression and the lofty conceptions of many of his great pieces, as in the “Death of the Virgin,” the “Christ Preaching,” the “Christ Healing the Sick” (the “Hundred Guilder Print”), the “Presentation to the People,” the “Crucifixion” and others. So great is his skill simply as an etcher that one is apt to overlook the nobleness of the etcher’s ideas and the depth of his nature, and this tendency has been doubtless confirmed by the enormous difference in money value between “states” of the same plate, rarity giving in many cases a factitious worth in the eyes of collectors. A single impression of one of his etchings—“Rembrandt with a Sabre”—realized £2000 at the Holford sale in 1893, when “Ephraim Bonus, with black ring” fetched £1950, and the “Hundred Guilder Print,” £1750. The points of difference between these states arise from the additions and changes made by Rembrandt on the plate; and the prints taken off by him have been subjected to the closest inspection by Bartsch, Gersaint, Wilson, Daulby, De Claussin, C. Blanc, Willshire, Seymour Haden, Middleton and others, who have described them at great length, and to whom the reader is referred. The classification of Rembrandt’s etchings adopted till lately was according to the subject, as Biblical, portrait, landscape, and so on; until Vosmaer attempted the more scientific and interesting line of chronology. This method has been developed by Sir F. Seymour Haden and Middleton. But even in 1873 C. Blanc, in his fine work L’Œuvre complet de Rembrandt, still adheres to the older and less intelligent arrangement, resting his preference on the frequent absence of dates on the etchings and more strangely still on the equality of the work. Sir Seymour Haden’s reply is “that the more important etchings which may be taken as types are dated, and that, the style of the etchings at different periods of Rembrandt’s career being fully as marked as that of his paintings, no more difficulty attends the classification of one than of the other.” Indeed Vosmaer points out in his Life of Rembrandt that there is a marked parallelism between Rembrandt’s painted and etched work, his early work in both cases being timid and tentative, while he gradually gains strength and character both with the brush and the graver’s tools.
In his L’Œuvre complet de Rembrandt (Paris, 1885), Eugene Dutuit rejects the classification of C. Blanc as dubious and unwarranted, dismisses the chronological arrangement proposed by Vosmaer and adopted by Seymour Haden and Middleton as open to discussion and lacking in possibility of proof, and reverts to the order established by Gersaint, ranging his materials under twelve heads: Portraits (real and supposed), Old Testament and New Testament subjects, histories, landscapes, &c. Sir Seymour Haden originated the theory that many of the etchings ascribed to Rembrandt up to 1640 were the work of his pupils, and seems to make out his case, though it may be carried too far. He argues (in his monograph on the Etched Work of Rembrandt, 1877) that Rembrandt’s real work in etching began after Saskia’s death, when he assumes that Rembrandt betook himself to Elsbroek, the country house of his “powerful friend” Jan Six. But it must be remembered that the future burgomaster was then but a student of twenty-four, a member of a great family it is true, but unmarried and taking as yet no share in public life. That Rembrandt was a frequent visitor at Elsbroek, and that the “Three Trees” and other etchings may have been produced there, may be admitted without requiring us to believe that he had left Amsterdam as his place of abode. The great period of his etching lies between 1639 and 1661, after which the old painter seems to have renounced the needle. In these twenty years were produced his greatest works in portraiture, landscape and Bible story. They bear the impress of the genius of the man.
In addition to the authors named, the reader is referred to W. Bürger, (the nom de plume of T. Thoré), Musées de la Hollande (1858–60), E. Fromentin, Maitres d'autrefois; H. Havard, L’École Hollandaise; Scheltema, Rembrandt, discours sur sa vie (1866); Ath. Cocquerel fils, Rembrandt, son individualism dans l’art (Paris, 1869); Dr Langbehn, Rembrandt als Erzieher (Leipzig, 1890); Emile Michel, Rembrandt, sa vie, son œuvre, et son temps (Paris, 1893); P. G. Hamerton, Rembrandt’s Etchings (London, 1894); Malcolm Bell, Rembrandt van Rijn and his Work (London, 1899); Adolf Rosenberg, Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1906), a useful work, admirably reproducing 565 of the artist’s pictures, and its companion volume, Hans Wolfgang Singer, Rembrandt, des Meisters Radierungen. (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1906), reproducing 402 etchings. The chronological, geographical and classifying indexes in both books are of particular utility. (J. F. W.; P. G. K.)
- Vosmaer’s first volume, on the precursors and apprenticeship of Rembrandt, was published in 1863. New light has since been thrown on important points by Dr Bode (Holländische Malerei, 1883), 'De Roever, De Vries and others.
- This picture has had a strange history. It had suffered by fire and was sold to a Mr Chaplin of London in 1841, was exhibited in Leeds in 1868, and again disappeared, ultimately to be found in the storeroom of the South Kensington Museum as a doubtful Rembrandt. The patriotism of some Dutch lovers of art restored it to its native country; and it now hangs, a magnificent fragment, in the museum of Amsterdam.