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Title: Rembrandt
Author: Israels, Josef
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Rembrandt" ***

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MASTERPIECES IN COLOUR

EDITED BY T. LEMAN HARE

In the Same Series

Artist.               Author.
VELAZQUEZ.            S. L. Bensusan.
REYNOLDS.             S. L. Bensusan.
TURNER.               C. Lewis Hind.
ROMNEY.               C. Lewis Hind.
GREUZE.               Alys Eyke Macklin.
BOTTICELLI.           Henry B. Binns.
ROSSETTI.             Lucien Pissarro.
BELLINI.              George Hay.
FRA ANGELICO.         James Mason.
LEIGHTON.             A. Lys Baldry.
REMBRANDT.            Josef Israels.
WATTS.                W. Loftus Hare.
TITIAN.               S. L. Bensusan.
RAPHAEL.              Paul G. Konody.

_Others in Preparation._



[Illustration: PLATE 1.--SUZANNA VAN COLLEN

This portrait, painted about 1633, and one of the gems of the Wallace
Collection, presents Susanna van Collen, wife of Jan Pellicorne, and her
daughter.]



REMBRANDT

BY JOSEF ISRAELS

ILLUSTRATED WITH EIGHT
REPRODUCTIONS IN COLOUR

LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK
NEW YORK: FREDERICK A. STOKES CO.

The plates are printed by Bemrose Dalziel, Ltd., Watford

The text at the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


Plate
I. Suzanna Van Collen                 Frontispiece
    From the Wallace Collection

                                                Page
II. A Portrait of Saskia                          14
    In the Brera, Milan

III. Syndics of the Cloth Merchants' Guild        24
    In the Royal Museum at Amsterdam

IV. Portrait of an Old Man                        34
    In the Pitti Palace at Florence

V. The Company of Francis Banning Cocq            40
    In the Royal Museum at Amsterdam

VI. Portrait of a Young Man                       50
    In the Pitti Palace at Florence

VII. Portrait of an Old Lady                      60
    From the National Gallery, London

VIII. Head of a Young Man                         70
    In the Louvre



INTRODUCTION


While the world pays respectful tribute to Rembrandt the artist, it has
been compelled to wait until comparatively recent years for some small
measure of reliable information concerning Rembrandt the man. The
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries seem to have been very little
concerned with personalities. A man was judged by his work which
appealed, if it were good enough, to an ever-increasing circle. There
were no newspapers to record his doings and, if he chanced to be an
artist, it was nobody's business to set down the details of his life.
Sometimes a diarist chanced to pass by and to jot down a little gossip,
quite unconscious of the fact that it would serve to stimulate
generations yet unborn, but, for the most part, artists who did great
work in a retiring fashion and were not honoured by courts and princes
as Rubens was, passed from the scene of their labours with all the
details of their sojourn unrecorded.

Rembrandt was fated to suffer more than mere neglect, for he seems to
have been a light-hearted, headstrong, extravagant man, with no
capacity for business. He had not even the supreme quality, associated
in doggerel with Dutchmen, of giving too little and asking too much.
Consequently, when he died poor and enfeebled, in years when his
collection of works of fine art had been sold at public auction for a
fraction of its value, when his pictures had been seized for debt, and
wife, mistress, children, and many friends had passed, little was said
about him. It was only when the superlative quality of his art was
recognised beyond a small circle of admirers that people began to gather
up such fragments of biography as they could find.

Shakespeare has put into Mark Antony's mouth the statement that "the
evil that men do lives after them," and this was very much the case with
Rembrandt van Ryn. His first biographers seem to have no memory save
for his undoubted recklessness, his extravagance, and his debts. They
remembered that his pictures fetched very good prices, that his studio
was besieged for some years by more sitters than it could accommodate,
that he was honoured with commissions from the ruling house, and that in
short, he had every chance that would have led a good business man to
prosperity and an old age removed from stress and strain. These facts
seem to have aroused their ire. They have assailed his memory with
invective that does not stop short at false statement. They have found
in the greatest of all Dutch artists a ne'er-do-well who could not take
advantage of his opportunities, who had the extravagance of a company
promoter, an explosive temper and all the instincts that make for loose
living.

[Illustration: PLATE II.--A PORTRAIT OF SASKIA

Rembrandt's portraits of his wife Saskia are distributed fairly equally
throughout the world's great galleries, but this one from the Brera in
Milan is not so well known as most, and on this account it is reproduced
here. It is called "Portrait of a Woman" in the catalogue, but the
features justify the belief that the lady was the painter's wife.]

Alas for these poor biographers, who, had they but taken the trouble to
trust to the pictures rather than to the lies that were current, would
have seen that the artist's life could not have been nearly as bad as
they imagined. Happily, to-day, we have more than the testimony of the
painted canvas, though that would suffice the most of intelligent men.
Further investigation has done a great deal to remove the blemishes from
Rembrandt's name; MM. Vosmaer and Michel have restored it as though it
were a discoloured picture, and those who hail Rembrandt master may do
so without mental reservation. His faults were very human ones and his
merits leave them in the shade.

Rembrandt was born in the pleasant city of Leyden, but it is not easy to
name the precise year. Somewhere between 1604 and 1607 he started his
troubled journey through life, and of his childhood the records are
scanty. Doubtless, his youthful imagination was stirred by the sights of
the city, the barges moving slowly along the canals, the windmills that
were never at rest, the changing chiaroscuro of the flooded, dyke-seamed
land. Perhaps he saw these things with the large eye of the artist, for
he could not have turned to any point of the compass without finding a
picture lying ready for treatment. Even when he was a little boy the
fascination of his surroundings may have been responsible in part for
the fact that he was not an industrious scholar, that he looked upon
reading and writing as rather troublesome accomplishments, worth less
than the labour involved in their acquisition. And yet his father was a
wealthy man, he would seem to have had no occasion to neglect his
studies, and the best one can find to say about these early years is
that they may have been directed badly by those in authority. In any
case, it is well-nigh impossible to make rules for genius. The boy who
sits unmoved at the bottom of his class, the butt of his companions, the
horrible example to whom the master turns when he wishes to point a
moral, may do work in the world that no one among those who attended the
school since its foundation has been able to accomplish and, if
Rembrandt did not satisfy his masters, he was at least paving the way
for accomplishment that is recognised gratefully to-day wherever art has
found a home.

His family soon knew that he had the makings of an artist and, in 1620,
when he could hardly have been more than sixteen, and may have been
considerably less, he left Leyden University for the studio of a
second-rate painter called Jan van Swanenburch. We have no authentic
record of his progress in the studio, but it must have been rapid. He
must have made friends, painted pictures, and attracted attention. At
the end of three years he went to Lastman's studio in Amsterdam,
returning thence to Leyden, where he took Gerard Dou as a pupil. A few
years later, it is not easy to settle these dates on a satisfactory
basis, he went to Amsterdam, and established himself there, because the
Dutch capital was very wealthy and held many patrons of the arts, in
spite of the seemingly endless war that Holland was waging with Spain.

The picture of "St. Paul in Prison" would seem to have been produced
about 1627, but the painter's appearance before the public of Amsterdam
in the guise of an accomplished artist whose work had to be reckoned
with, may be said to have dated from the completion of the famous
"Anatomy Lesson," in 1631 or 1632. At this time he was living on the
Bloemgracht. Rembrandt had painted many portraits when the picture of
the medical men and the cadaver created a great sensation and, if we
remember that he could not have been more than twenty-seven years old,
and may have been no more than twenty-five, it is not difficult to
understand that Amsterdam was stirred from its usual reserve, and
greeted the rising star with enthusiasm. In a few weeks the entrance to
the painter's studio was besieged by people wishing to sit for their
portraits, by pupils who brought 100 florins, no small sum in those days
for the privilege of working for a year in the master's studio. It may
be mentioned here that even in the days when the painter's popularity
with the general public of Holland had waned, there was never any lack
of enthusiastic students from many countries, all clamouring for
admission to the studio.

Many a man can endure adversity with courage; success is a greater
trial. Bad times often avail to bring out what is best in creative
genius; success tends to destroy it. Rembrandt did not remain unaffected
by the quick response that Amsterdam made to his genius. His art
remained true and sincere, he declined to make the smallest concession
to what silly sitters called their taste, but he did not really know
what to do with the money and commissions that flowed in upon him so
freely. The best use he made of changing circumstances was to become
engaged to Saskia van Uylenborch, the cousin of his great friend
Hendrick van Uylenborch, the art dealer of Amsterdam. Saskia, who was
destined to live for centuries, through the genius of her husband, seems
to have been born in 1612, and to have become engaged to Rembrandt when
she was twenty. The engagement followed very closely upon the patronage
of Rembrandt by Prince Frederic Henry, the Stadtholder, who instructed
the artist to paint three pictures. There seemed no longer any need to
hesitate, and only domestic troubles seem to have delayed the marriage
until 1634. Saskia is enshrined in many pictures. She is seen first as a
young girl, then as a woman. As a bride, in the picture now at Dresden,
she sits upon her husband's knee, while he raises a big glass with his
outstretched arm. Her expression here is rather shy, as if she
deprecated the situation and realised that it might be misconstrued.
This picture gave offence to Rembrandt's critics, who declared that it
revealed the painter's taste for strong drink and riotous living--they
could see nothing more in canvas than a story. Several portraits of
Saskia remained to be painted. She would seem to have aged rapidly, for
after marriage her days were not long in the land. She was only thirty
when she died, and looked considerably older.

[Illustration: PLATE III.--SYNDICS OF THE CLOTH MERCHANTS' GUILD

This fine work, of which so much has been written, is to be seen to-day
in the Royal Museum at Amsterdam. It is one of the finest examples of
the master's portrait groups, and was painted in 1661.]

In the first years of his married life Rembrandt moved to the Nieuwe
Doelstraat. For the time he had more commissions than he knew how to
execute, few troubles save those that his fiery temperament provoked,
and one great sorrow, arising out of the death of his first-born. There
can be no doubt at all that he spent far too much money in these years;
he would attend the sales of works of art and pay extravagant sums for
any that took his fancy. If he ever paused to question himself, he would
be content to explain that he paid big prices in order to show how great
was his respect for art and artists. He came to acquire a picture by
Rubens, a book of drawings by Lucas van Leyden, and the splendid pearls
that may be seen in the later portraits of Saskia. Very soon his rash
and reckless methods became known to the dealers, who would push the
prices up with the certain knowledge that Rembrandt would rush in where
wiser buyers feared to tread. The making of an art collection, the
purchase of rich jewels for his wife, together with good and open-handed
living, soon began to play havoc with Rembrandt's estate. The artist's
temperament offended many of the sober Dutchmen who could not understand
it at all, his independence and insistence upon the finality of his own
judgment were more offensive still, and after 1636 there were fewer
applications for portraits.

In 1638 we find Rembrandt taking an action against one Albert van Loo,
who had dared to call Saskia extravagant. It was, of course, still more
extravagant of Rembrandt to waste his money on lawyers on account of a
case he could not hope to win, but this thought does not seem to have
troubled him. He did not reflect that it would set the gossips talking
more cruelly than ever. Still full of enthusiasm for life and art, he
was equally full of affection for Saskia, whose hope of raising children
seemed doomed to disappointment, for in addition to losing the little
Rombertus, two daughters, each named Cornelia, had died soon after
birth. In 1640 Rembrandt's mother died. Her picture remains on record
with that of her husband, painted ten years before, and even the
biographers of the artist do not suggest that Rembrandt was anything but
a good son. A year later the well-beloved Saskia gave birth to the one
child who survived the early years, the boy Titus. Then her health
failed, and in 1642 she died, after eight years of married life that
would seem to have been happy. In this year Rembrandt painted the famous
"Night Watch," a picture representing the company of Francis Banning
Cocq, and incidentally a day scene in spite of its popular name. The
work succeeded in arousing a storm of indignation, for every sitter
wanted to have equal prominence in the canvas. They had subscribed
equally to the cost, and Rembrandt had dared to compose the picture!

It may be said that after his wife's death, and the exhibition of this
fine work, Rembrandt's pleasant years came to an end. He was then
somewhere between thirty-six and thirty-eight years old, he had made his
mark, and enjoyed a very large measure of recognition, but henceforward,
his career was destined to be a very troubled one, full of
disappointment, pain, and care. Perhaps it would have been no bad thing
for him if he could have gone with Saskia into the outer darkness. The
world would have been poorer, but the man himself would have been spared
many years that perhaps even the devoted labours of his studio could not
redeem.

Saskia's estate, which seems to have been a considerable one, was left
to Rembrandt absolutely, in trust for the sole surviving child Titus,
but Rembrandt, after his usual free and easy fashion, did not trouble
about the legal side of the question. He did not even make an inventory
of the property belonging to his wife, and this carelessness led to
endless trouble in future years, and to the distribution of a great part
of the property into the hands of gentlemen learned in the law. Perhaps
the painter had other matters to think about, he could no longer
disguise from himself the fact that public patronage was falling off. It
may be that the war with Spain was beginning to make people in
comfortable circumstances retrench, but it is more than likely that the
artist's name was not known favourably to his fellow-citizens. His
passionate temperament and his quick eye for truly artistic effects
could not be tolerated by the sober, stodgy men and women who were the
rank and file of Amsterdam's comfortable classes. To be sure, the
Stadtholder continued his patronage; he ordered the famous
"Circumcision" and the "Adoration of the Shepherds." Pupils continued to
arrive, too, in large numbers, many of them coming from beyond Holland;
but the public stayed away.

Rembrandt was not without friends, who helped him as far as they could,
and advised him as much as they dared; but he seems to have been a man
who could not be assisted, because in matters of art he allowed no
outside interference, and he was naturally impulsive. Money ran through
his hands like water through a sieve, though it is only fair to point
out that he was very generous, and could not lend a deaf ear to any tale
of distress.

Between 1642, when Saskia died, and 1649, it is not easy to follow the
progress of his life; we can only state with certainty that his
difficulties increased almost as quickly as his work ripened. His
connection with Hendrickje Stoffels would seem to have started about
1649, and this woman with whom he lived until her death some thirteen
years later, has been abused by many biographers because she was the
painter's mistress. Some have endeavoured to prove, without any
evidence, that he married her, but this concession to Mrs. Grundy seems
a little beside the mark. The relations between the pair were a matter
for their own consideration, and it is clear that Hendrickje came to the
painter in the time of his greatest trouble, to serve him lovingly and
faithfully until she passed away at the comparatively early age of
thirty-six.

She bore him two children, who seem to have died young, and, curiously
enough, her position in the house was accepted by young Titus Rembrandt,
who, when he was nearing man's estate, started, in partnership with her,
to deal in pictures and works of art--a not very successful attempt to
support the establishment in comfort.

In the year when Hendrickje joined Rembrandt, he could no longer pay
instalments on the house he had bought for himself in the Joden
Breestraat. About the following year he began to sell property, hoping
against hope that he would be able to tide over the bad times. Three
years later he started borrowing on a very extensive scale. In 1656 a
fresh guardian was appointed for Titus, to whom his father transferred
some property, and in that year the painter was adjudged bankrupt. The
year 1657 saw much of his private property sold, but his collection of
pictures and engravings found comparatively few bidders, and realised no
more than 5000 florins. A year later his store of pictures came under
the hammer, and in 1660, Hendrickje and Titus started their plucky
attempt to establish a little business, in order that they might restore
some small part of the family fortune.

[Illustration: PLATE IV.--PORTRAIT OF AN OLD MAN

Rembrandt painted very many portraits of men and women whose identity
cannot be traced, and it is probable that the original of this striking
portrait in the Pitti Palace at Florence was unknown to many of the
painter's contemporaries. This is one of Rembrandt's late works, and is
said to have been painted about 1658.]

For a little time the keen edge of trouble seems to have been turned.
One of Rembrandt's friends secured him the commission to paint the
"Syndics of the Drapers' Guild," and this is one of the last works of
importance in the artist's life, because his sight was beginning to
fail. To understand why this fresh trouble fell upon him, it is
necessary to turn for a moment to consider the marvellous etchings he
produced between 1628 and 1661. The drawings may be disregarded in this
connection, though there are about a thousand undisputed ones in
existence, but the making of the etchings, of which some two hundred are
allowed by all competent observers to be the work of the master, must
have inflicted enormous strain upon his sight. When he was passing from
middle age, overwhelmed with trouble of every description, it is not
surprising that his eyes should have refused to serve him any longer.

One might have thought that the immortals had finished their sport with
Rembrandt, but apparently their resources are quite inexhaustible. One
year after the state of his eyes had brought etching to an end, the
faithful Hendrickje died. A portrait of her, one of the last of the
master's works, may be seen in Berlin. The face is a charming and
sympathetic one, and moves the observer to a feeling of sympathy that
makes the mere question of the Church's participation in her relations
with Rembrandt a very small affair indeed.

In the next seven years the old painter passed quietly down towards the
great silence. A few ardent admirers among the young men, a few old
friends whom no adversity could shake, remained to bring such comfort as
they might. With failing sight and health he moved to the Lauriergracht,
and the capacity for work came nearly to an end. The lawyers made merry
with the various suits. Some had been instituted to recover money that
the painter had borrowed, others to settle the vexed question of the
creditors' right to Saskia's estate. In 1665 Titus received the balance
that was left, when the decision of the courts allowed him to handle
what legal ingenuity had not been able to impound.

In the summer of 1668, when he was about twenty-seven years old, Titus
married his cousin Magdellena, and this little celebration may be
supposed to have cheered the elder Rembrandt a little, but his pleasure
was brief, for the young bridegroom died in September of the same year,
and in the following year a posthumous daughter was born.

By this time the immortals had completed their task, there was nothing
left for them to do; they had broken the old painter's health and his
heart, they had reduced him to poverty. So they gave him half a year to
digest their gifts, and then some word of pity seems to have entered
into their councils, and one of the greatest painters the world has seen
was set free from the intolerable burden of life. From certain documents
still extant we learn that he was buried at the expense of thirteen
florins. He has left to the world some five or six hundred pictures that
are admitted to be genuine, together with the etchings and drawings to
which reference has been made. He is to be seen in many galleries in the
Old World and the New, for he painted his own portrait more than a score
of times. Saskia, too, may be seen in several galleries and Hendrickje
has not been forgotten.

[Illustration: PLATE V.--THE COMPANY OF FRANCIS BANNING COCQ

Generally known as the "Night Watch." This famous picture, now to be
seen in the Royal Museum at Amsterdam, is the best discussed of all the
master's works. It has been pointed out that it is in reality a day
scene although it is known to most people as the "Night Watch." The
picture was painted in 1642.]

There is no doubt that many of Rembrandt's troubles were self-inflicted;
but his punishment was largely in excess of his sins. His pictures may
be admired in nearly all great public collections; they are distributed,
too, among private galleries. Rembrandt's art has found a welcome in all
countries. We know now that part of his temporary unpopularity in
Holland was due to the fact that he was far in advance of his own time,
that the conventions of lesser men repelled him, and he was perhaps a
little too vigorous in the expression of his opinions. Now, in the years
when the voice of fame cannot reach him and his worst detractors are
silent, he is set on a pedestal by the side of Velazquez and Titian.



REMBRANDT

AN APPRECIATION OF THE PICTURES IN AMSTERDAM


Will the reader turn away with a shrug of the shoulder, when he sees,
heading this essay, the famous name that we hear so often?

I feel like one sitting among friends at a banquet, and though many of
the guests have expressed and analysed the same feelings in different
toasts, I will not be restrained from expressing, in my turn, my delight
in the festive gathering. I touch my glass to ensure a hearing, and I
speak as my heart prompts me. It is not very important or interesting,
but I am speaking in praise of him in whose honour the feast is given.

In this frame of mind I am contributing my little share to the pile of
written matter, which has been produced from all quarters, in honour of
the great painter.


I

Many years ago I went to Amsterdam as an art student, to be trained
under the auspices of the then famous portrait painter Kruseman. Very
soon I was admitted to the master's studio, and beheld with admiration
the portraits of the distinguished personages he was painting at the
time.

The pink flesh-tints of the faces, the delicate treatment of the
draperies and dresses, more often than not standing out against a
background of dark red velvet, attracted me immensely.

When, however, I expressed a desire to be allowed to copy some of these
portraits, the master refused my request. "No," he said; "if you want to
copy, go to the museum in the 'Trippenhuis.'"[1]

I dared not show the bitter disappointment this refusal caused me.
Having come fresh from the country, the old masters were a sealed book
to me. I failed to discover any beauty in the homely, old-fashioned
scenes of dark landscapes over which people went into ecstasies. To my
untrained eyes the exhibition in "Arti"[2] seemed infinitely more
beautiful; and Pieneman, Gallait, Calame, and Koekoek especially excited
my admiration.

I was not really lacking in artistic instinct any more than my
fellow-students, but I had not yet gained the experience and practice,
which are indispensable to the true understanding of the quaint but
highly artistic qualities of the old Dutch masters. I maintain that
however intelligent a man may be, it is impossible to appreciate old
Dutch art to the full, or even to enjoy it, unless one has become
thoroughly familiar with it, and has tried to identify oneself with it.
In order to be able to sound the real character and depth of
manifestations of art, the artistic sensibility has to be trained and
developed.

It was long before I could summon up sufficient courage to enter this
Holy of Holies armed with my colours and brushes. Indeed I only started
on this venture after a long spell of hard work, out-of-doors as well as
in the studio, and after having made many studies from the nude, and
many more still-life studies; then a light broke in upon my darkness.

I began to understand at last that the true aim of art does not consist
in the smooth and delicate plastering of the colours. I realised that my
chief study was to be the exact value of light and shade, the relief of
the objects, and the attitude, movements, and gestures of the figures.

Having learned to look upon art from this point of view, I entered the
old "Trippenhuis" with pleasure. Little by little the beauty and truth
of these admirable old masters dawned upon me. I perceived that their
simple subjects grew rich and full of meaning through the manner in
which they were treated. The artists were geniuses, and the world around
them either ignored the fact, or did not see it until too late.

Knowing little of art, I chose for my first copy a small canvas, a
"Hermit" by Gerard Dou, not understanding that, though small, it might
contain qualities which would prove too difficult for me to imitate. I
had to work it over and over again, for I could not get any shape in the
thick, sticky paint. Then I tried a head by Van der Helst, and succeeded
a little better.

[Illustration: PLATE VI.--PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN

This portrait may be seen to-day in the Pitti Palace at Florence. It is
said to be one of Rembrandt's portraits of himself, painted about
1635.]

At last I stopped before one of the heads in the "Syndics of the Cloth
Merchants' Guild." The man in the left-hand corner, with the soft grey
hair under the steeple-hat, had arrested my fancy. I felt that there was
something in the portrait's beauty I could grasp and reproduce, though I
saw at once that the technical treatment was entirely different from
what I had attempted hitherto. However, the desire to reproduce this
breadth of execution tempted me so much that I resolved to try my hand
at it. I forget now what the copy looked like; I only remember that for
years it hung on my studio wall.

So I tried to grasp the colour scheme, and the technique of the
different artists, until the beauties of the so-called "Night Patrol"
and the "Syndics" took such hold of me that nothing attracted me but
what had come from the hand of the great master, the unique Rembrandt.
In his work I found something which all the others lacked. Freedom and
exuberance were his chief attractions, two qualities utterly barred and
forbidden in the drawing class and in my teacher's studio.

Although Frans Hals impressed me more than any other painter with the
power with which he wielded the brush, even he was put in the shade by
Rembrandt's unsurpassable colour effects.

When I had looked at Rembrandt's pictures to my heart's content, I used
to go down to the ground floor in the "Trippenhuis" to the print
cabinet. Here I found his etchings beautifully arranged. It was a
pleasant room overlooking a garden, and in the centre stood a long table
covered with a green cloth, on which one could put down the portfolio
and look at the gems they contained at leisure.

I often sat there for hours, buried in the contemplation of these two
hundred and forty masterpieces. The conservator never ceased urging me
to be careful when he saw me mix them up too much in my efforts to
compare them. How astonished I was to find in the painter who, with
mighty hand, had modelled in paint the glorious "Night Patrol," an
accomplished engraver, not only gifted with the power and freedom of a
great painter, but thoroughly versed in all the mysteries of the use of
the etching needle on the hard, smooth copper.

Still it was not the extraordinary skill which attracted me most in
these etchings. It was rather the singular inventive power shown in the
different scenes, the peculiar contrast between light and shade, and the
almost childlike manner in which the figures had been treated. The
artist's soul not only spoke through the choice of subject, but it
found an expression in every single detail, conveyed by the delicate
handling of the needle.

Many Biblical subjects are represented in the Amsterdam collection; they
are full of artistic imagination and sentiment in their composition in
spite of their seeming incongruity. The conception is so highly
original, and at the same time betrays such a depth of understanding,
that other prints, however beautifully done, look academic and stilted
beside them.

Among those etchings were excellent portraits, wonderfully lifelike
heads of the painter's friends and of himself; but when one has looked
at the little picture of his mother, he is compelled to shut the
portfolio for a moment, because the unbidden tears rise to the eyes.

It is impossible to find anything more exquisite than this engraving.
Motherly kindness, sweetness, and thoughtfulness are expressed in every
curve, in the slightest touch of the needle. Each line has a meaning;
not a single touch could have been left out without injury to the whole.

Hokusai, the Japanese artist, said that he hoped to live to be very old
that he might have time to learn to draw in such a way that every stroke
of his pencil would be the expression of some living thing. That is
exactly what Rembrandt has attained here, and, in this portrait, he
realised at the age of twenty-four the ideal of the old Japanese; it is
one of his earliest etchings.

I re-open the portfolio to have a look at the pictures of the wonderful
old Jewish beggars. They were types that were to be found by the score
in the Amsterdam of those days, and Rembrandt delighted to draw them.
One is almost inclined to say that they cannot be beggars, because the
master's hand has endowed them with the warmth and splendour with which
his artistic temperament clothed everything he looked at.

When I had looked enough at the etchings, I used to go home through the
town, and it seemed to me as if I were meeting the very people I had
just seen in the engravings. As I went through the "Hoog Straat" and
"St. Anthony's Breestraat" to the "Joden Breestraat," where I lived a
few doors from the famous house where Rembrandt dwelt and worked so
long, I saw the picturesque crowd passing to and fro; I saw the vivid
Hebrew physiognomies, with their iron-grey beards; the red-headed women;
the barrows full of fish or fruit, or all kinds of rubbish; the houses,
the people, the sky. It was all Rembrandt--all Rembrandtesque. A great
deal has been changed in those streets since the time of which I have
been writing, yet, even now, whenever I pass through them I seem to see
the colours, and the kind of people Rembrandt shows us in his works.

In the meantime I had found a third manifestation of Rembrandt's talent,
viz., his drawings. To a young painter, who himself was still groping in
the dark for means of expressing his feelings, these drawings were
exceedingly puzzling, but at the same time full of stimulus.

Less palpably living than his etchings, it was some time before I could
properly appreciate them, but when I understood what I firmly believe
still, namely, that the master did not draw with a view to exhibiting
them or only for the pleasure of making graceful outlines I felt their
true meaning. They were simply the embodiments of his deeper feelings;
emanations from the abundance of his fertile imagination. They have been
thrown on the paper with an unthinking, careless hand; the same hand
that created masterpieces, prompted by the slightest impulse, the least
sensation. When I looked at them superficially they seemed disfigured by
all sorts of smudges and thick black lines, which cross and recross in a
seemingly wild and aimless sort of way; but when looked into carefully,
they all have a meaning of their own, and have been put there with a
just and deep felt appreciation of light and shade. The greater
compositions crowded with figures, the buildings, the landscapes--all
are impregnated with the same deep artistic feeling.

[Illustration: PLATE VII.--PORTRAIT OF AN OLD LADY

This famous portrait of an old lady unknown is in our National Gallery.
It is on canvas 4 ft. 2+3/4 in. by 3 ft. 2 in.]

One evening one of my friends gave us a short lecture on art and showed
us many drawings by ancient and modern artists, most of them, however,
being by contemporaries who had already become famous. Among them was
one drawing by Rembrandt, and it was remarkable to notice the peculiar
effect it produced in this collection. The scene represented on the old
smudgy piece of paper was so simple in execution, so noble in
composition, done with just a few strokes of the pencil, that all the
other drawings looked like apprentice-work beside it. Here was the
master, towering above all.

Thus I saw Rembrandt, the man who could tell me endless stories, and
could conjure them up before my eyes with either brush, pencil, or
etching needle. Whether heaven or earth; the heroes of old; or only a
corner of old Amsterdam--out of everything he made the most beautiful
drawings. His pictures of lions and elephants are wonderfully naïve. His
nude figures of female models are remarkable, because no painter dared
paint them exactly as he saw them in his studio, but Rembrandt,
entranced by the glow and warmth of the flesh tints, never dreamt of
reproducing them otherwise than as he saw them. It was no Venus, or
June, or Diana he wanted. He might, perhaps, even take his neighbour's
washerwoman, make her get up on the model throne, and put her on the
canvas in all the glory of living, throbbing flesh and blood.

And the way in which he put his scrawls and strokes is so wonderful that
one can never look too long at them. All his work is done with a
light-heartedness, a cheerfulness, and firmness which preclude at once
the idea of painful study and exertion.


II

What do I think of the master now, after so many years?

Come with me, reader, let us look together at the strongest expression
of Rembrandt's art, viz., his picture "The Night Patrol."

Our way leads us now to the Ryksmuseum, and we sit down in the newly
built "Rembrandt room," with our backs to the light, so as to obtain a
full view of the picture, and we try to forget all about the struggle it
cost to erect this temple of art.

At first sight, we are struck by the grand movements of light and shade,
which seem to flood the canvas as if with waves of coloured harmonies.
Then, suddenly, two men seem to step out from the group. The one is
dressed in sombre-coloured clothes, whilst the other is resplendent in
white. That is Rembrandt all over, not afraid of putting the light in
bold contrast against the dark. So as to maintain the harmony between
the two he makes the dark man lift his hand as if he were pointing at
something, and in doing so, he casts a softening shadow on his brilliant
companion. Genius finds a way where ordinary mortals are at a loss how
to help themselves. Clearly these men are in earnest conversation with
each other, and it is quite evident that they are the leaders of the
company.

But when everything was put on the canvas that he intended to put there,
the master stood in front of it and shook his head.

To him these two leaders did not stand out sufficiently from the rest.
So he took up his palette again, and again he dipped his broadest
brushes deep in paint and with a few mighty strokes he transformed these
two figures; a little more depth here, some more light there. He tried
every means to give the scene more depth, and a fuller meaning. Then he
saw that it was all right and left it.

The likeness of his patrons was, perhaps, not very exact and most likely
some murmurs were raised at the want of minutely finished detail; but he
did not heed such matters. To him the main point was to make his figures
live and breathe and move; and see how he succeeded! From the plumes of
their hats to the soles of their feet everything is living, tangible.
How full of energy and character are their heads! Their dress, the steel
gorget, the boots of the man in white; everything bears witness to the
wonderful power of the master.

And look at the man in black, with his red bandolier, his gloves, and
his stick. This does not strike one as anything out of the common,
because the composition is so true, so perfectly natural and simple. I
cannot remember having seen a single picture in which the peculiar style
and picturesqueness of those days is so vividly expressed, as in the
figures of these two men calmly walking along on the giant canvas.

Now let us turn to the right and have a look at the perspiring drummer.
His pock-marked face, overshadowed by a frayed hat, is of the true
Falstaff type. The swollen nose, the thick-lipped mouth, every detail is
carried out with the daring of the true artist which characterises all
the master's work. Look at him, drumming away as if he wanted to make it
known that he himself is one of the most magnificent specimens of the
work of the genius whom men call Rembrandt.

On looking at this man I can understand why Gerard de Lairesse exclaimed
in his great book on painting: "In Rembrandt's pictures the paint is
running down the panel like mud!" But it was only his conscientious
narrow-mindedness which made him say it. Genius never fails to get into
conflict with narrow thought.

But now let us turn our attention to the left-hand corner. There we see
that pithy soldier all in red. Rembrandt, with his intuitive knowledge
of chiaroscuro, was not afraid of painting a figure all in red. He knew
that the play of light and shade on the colour would help him out. Here
part of the red is toned down by a beautiful soft tint, which makes the
whole figure blend harmoniously with the greyish-green of the others.
This man in red, too, has been treated in the same masterly manner of
which I spoke above. If one looks at him attentively, it seems as if the
man, who apparently might step out of the canvas at any rate, had been
painted with one powerful sweep of the brush. How firm is the treatment
of the hand loading the gun; how true the shadows on the red hat and
jerkin. There the figure stands, alert, living, full of movement, rich
in colour.

In this marvellous picture we come across something striking at every
turn. How life-like is the halberdier looking over his shoulder; and the
man who is inspecting his gun, just behind the figure in white; observe
the wonderful effect of the laughing boy in the grey hat against the
dark background. Even the pillar which serves as a background to the man
with the helmet adds to the harmony of the whole.

But here we meet with something peculiar! What is that quaint little
girl doing among all those men?

[Illustration: PLATE VIII.--HEAD OF A YOUNG MAN. (Unknown)

In the Louvre]

Numbers of critics have racked their brains about the meaning of
different details. But if Rembrandt could have heard them, he would have
answered with a laugh, "Don't you see that I only wanted this child as a
focus for the light, and a contrast with all the downward lines and dark
colours?"

The man with the banner in the background, the dog running away, all
these details help each other to carry out the effect of line and
colour. There is not a square inch in this canvas which does not betray
a rare talent. This is a case in which the assertion, "Cut me a piece
out of a picture and I will tell you if it is by an artist," could
successfully be applied.

Now, I hope my readers won't object to accompanying me a little further,
and stopping with me before the "Syndics." There it hangs, the great
simple canvas, quite different in character from the "Night Patrol."

Everything here is dignified and stately. The whole picture is a
glorious witness to the consummate knowledge the master possessed of
expressing the individual soul in the human face. Here they sit, those
old Dutch fathers, assembled in solemn conclave, debating about their
trade, with the books on the table in front of them; and Rembrandt has
painted these heads so true to life that in the course of years they
have become like old friends; yes, old friends, though they lived
hundreds of years before we were dreamt of.

How long have I known that man on the left, with his hand on the knob of
his arm-chair, and the fine grey hair on his broad wrinkled brow showing
from under the high steeple-hat? The flesh tints in the face, whether
catching the full light, or partly veiled by shadows, display an endless
variety of shades, and the neutral greens and reds, greys and yellows,
are put against each other in such a wonderful manner that an effect
has been attained which strikes us dumb with admiration. The way in
which he is made to stand out from the background is in itself
marvellous, but just look at the man! how full of life and understanding
is the look in those eyes. It is something quite unique, something
Rembrandt himself has never surpassed.

And then there are the other figures; the man who is leaning forward;
the one sitting right in front of the book, his neighbour; even the
fifth merchant on the right, with his servant behind him--one and all
are full of life and light.

The background is such as Rembrandt only, with his understanding of
lines, could have devised. The wall and the panelling shut in the
composition in such a way that one cannot possibly imagine it ever
having been otherwise. And even this skilful touch is made subordinate
to the warm red colour of the tablecloth, which lends the picture an
additional depth.

I don't know whether this picture was very much discussed by Rembrandt's
contemporaries when it was finished. But to us, who have seen so much of
the art of the great Italians, Germans, and Spaniards, these heads are
the highest achievement of the art of painting.

When I was in Madrid, where I was charmed by Velasquez' work, our party
was one day walking through the broad streets of the capital. Passing a
large, picturesque building, our attention was attracted by a gaudy
poster informing us that an exhibition of the works of modern Spanish
artists was being held within. Our curiosity being aroused, we entered,
and found that in this country, where so many famous artists lived and
worked, there are among the modern artists many studious, highly
talented men, who serve their art with true love and devotion. But
suddenly it seemed as if we had been carried by magic from Spain back to
Amsterdam. We had come face to face with a copy of the "Syndics,"
painted by a Spanish artist during a stay in Amsterdam.

Was it national prejudice, or was it conviction? I don't know; but this
copy spoke to us of a spirit of greater simplicity, of a truer
conception of the nature and dignity of mankind than anything we had
admired in the Prado. Yes; this picture even kills its own Dutch
brothers. It makes Van der Helst look superficial, and Franz Hals
unfinished and flat. So much thoroughness and depth combined with such
freedom and grace of movement is not to be found anywhere else.

These people have lived on the canvas for centuries, and they will
outlive us all. And the man who achieved this masterpiece was at the
time of its production a poor, struggling burgher living in an obscure
corner of the town where his tercentenary festival was lately
celebrated.


III

But this is not the place for the sad reflections which are awakened in
our minds on examining the records of him whose name the world now
glorifies and raises to the skies. Better to honour the great master
who, for so many centuries, has held the world in awed admiration. There
is no need to-day to drag Rembrandt forth from the obscurity of the past
to save him from oblivion; we were not obliged to cleanse his image from
the dust of ages before showing to the world this unequalled genius to
whom Holland proudly points as one of her own sons.

On the contrary, never was Rembrandt's art valued so highly as it is
now. Archives and documents are searched for details about his life and
works. We want to know all about his life, and are anxious to share his
inmost feelings in prosperity and adversity. The houses where he lived
are marked down and bought by art-lovers. At the present time Rembrandt
is in the zenith of his glory. Gold loses its value where his pictures
are concerned. Fortunes are spent to secure the most insignificant of
his works; people travel across continents to see them; and criticism,
which for long years did little more than snarl at Rembrandt, has for
nearly fifty years been dumb.

It is remarkable that none of the great painters have, in the course of
years, been subjected to so much criticism as Rembrandt. And
notwithstanding all the things which have been said about the
improbability of the scene, and the exaggeration of the dark background,
the "Night Patrol" is now, as it ever was and ever will be, the "World's
wonder," as our English neighbours say.

During his lifetime there were people who condemned Rembrandt because he
refused to follow in the footsteps of the old Italian painters, because
he persisted in painting nature as he saw it.

To us such a reproach seems strange, yet it is quite true. Even during
the last years of Rembrandt's life a growing dissatisfaction with the
existing ideas on art and literature had taken possession of the Dutch
mind. People developed a morbid taste for everything classical; and when
I read in the prose works and poems of these days the Latinised names
and the constant allusions to Greek gods and goddesses and mythological
personages, so strangely out of place under our northern sky, I am
filled with disgust.

It was fortunate, indeed, that Rembrandt always felt strong in his own
conviction and only followed his own views. For many years after his
death, even as late as the middle of the nineteenth century, a number of
art critics raised objections against the dangerous theories of which
his pictures were the expression. Again and again they attacked his
technical treatment; none of them ever grasped its deeper, fuller
meaning.

Happily those days are far behind us. A great number of books and
pamphlets have been published on Rembrandt during the last fifty years,
and they are almost unanimous in their praise and admiration of the
great master. The more liberal feelings of the modern world have
achieved some victories in the realms of art as well as elsewhere. We
moderns feel that the apparent shortcomings and exaggerations are
nothing but the inevitable peculiarities attendant upon genius. And we
even go so far that we would not have him be without a single one of
them, for fear of losing the slightest trait in the character of the
great man whose every movement roused our intellectual faculties.

So Rembrandt has been raised in our days to the pinnacle of fame which
is his by right; the festival of his tercentenary was acknowledged by
the whole civilised world as the natural utterance of joy and pride of
our small country in being able to count among its children the great
Rembrandt.

I finish,--"with the pen, but not with the heart!" For if I should go on
until the inclination to add more to what I have written here should
fail me, my readers would have tired of me long before I had tired of my
subject. I am thinking of that rare gem, the portrait of Jan Six--of the
Louvre, of Cassel, of Brunswick, of what not!

May these pages convey to the reader the fact that I have always looked
upon Rembrandt as the true type of an artist, free, untrammelled by
traditions, genial in all he did; in short, a figure in whom all the
great qualities of the old Republic of the United Provinces were
concentrated and reflected.


FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: The "Trippenhuis" was used as a picture gallery before the
Ryksmuseum was built. It was an old patrician family mansion belonging
to the Trip family. Several members of this family filled important
posts in the government of the old Republic of the United Provinces, and
some were burgomasters of Amsterdam.]

[Footnote 2: "Arti et Amicitiæ" is a society of modern Dutch painters.
Occasionally the members organise exhibitions of the work of
contemporary countrymen or of foreign artists, and every year there is
an exhibition of their own works. These shows are held in the society's
own building in Amsterdam at the corner of the "Rokin" and "Spui."]





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