L ast November, in anticipation of Sotheby’s offering Rembrandt’s Abraham and the Angels in the upcoming Master Paintings Part I in New York on Thursday, 28 January, the unique and intimate panel returned to the very city and studio where it was created 375 years ago. It was first shown at Sotheby’s Amsterdam by invitation as part of a worldwide tour during which directors and head curators of the leading Dutch museums visited, along with key advisors, art historians specializing in Rembrandt, dealers and private collectors. Afterwards, the painting made a very special outing to its very “birthplace.”
On Tuesday, 17 November 2020, Abraham and the Angels was brought back to Rembrandt’s house, now the Museum Het Rembrandthuis, on Jodenbreestraat, where Rembrandt made the painting in 1646. We placed the painting on an easel in the very room – the large studio on the street side of the house – where it was painted. The large studio is flooded with northern light, and returning the work to that spot was a defining moment.
Lidewij de Koekkoek, the director of the Rembrandthuis, and I discussed the painting in great detail and tried to determine the exact place in the studio and under which light conditions it was painted, which was an illuminating and interesting exercise. We at Sotheby’s found it important for the work to return to Amsterdam, and are grateful to the wonderful director and staff of the Rembrandthuis for facilitating its return to its place of creation, which contributes to its fascinating history. The nearly unbroken sequence of owners of Abraham and the Angels is one of the most interesting features of the painting, and having the work back in Amsterdam provided a perfect example of what heritage and provenance add to such a unique work. One could almost feel the magic when the small panel was placed in Rembrandt’s studio on a simple easel, giving us a glimpse of the working practice of this prolific painter.
In the late 1630s, Rembrandt had already established his reputation as an artist. In the same year that he bought the house on Jodenbreestraat (1639), he was awarded the prestigious commission to paint the Nightwatch, which he eventually finished in 1642. The impressive merchant’s house was built in 1606 in what was then Sint Antoniesbreestraat, the present-day Jodenbreestraat. This neighbourhood attracted the elite and was home to the A-list of the Amsterdam art world, including Rembrandt’s teacher, Pieter Lastman, and the artists Nicolaes Eliasz. Pickenoy and Pieter Codde. Rembrandt’s workshop produced an enormous quantity of paintings, drawings and etchings, and the best artists came to him to be trained. Rembrandt was a passionate collector and his house was filled with a large collection of paintings by himself and others, as well as prints, kunstkammer rarities and other works of art. In 1658, when Rembrandt was 52, he was finally forced to leave his house, as he went bankrupt. Rembrandt moved to a small rented house on the Rozengracht, where he lived until his death in 1669.
In the 20th century, the interior of the former dwelling of Rembrandt was restored as far as possible to the style of Rembrandt’s time. The seventeenth-century furniture, objets d’art and utensils project a powerful image of Rembrandt’s possessions up to the moment he went bankrupt.
Our journey with Abraham and the Angels to the Rembrandthuis was very touching in my opinion; taking this picture back to where it was painted in the middle of the 17th century, so many years ago, presented a wonderful opportunity. As you can see in the photo above, my artistic heart was very affected by the inspiring occasion.
One of the main Dutch newspapers, de Telegraaf, was also there to capture the very special moment when Abraham and the Angels was in the Rembrandthuis:
The following day, Wednesday 18 November, Rembrandt’s Abraham and the Angels made a live appearance on one of the biggest Dutch TV talk shows, Op1, where it was received with great enthusiasm by the Dutch audience.