Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum

By Petra Kwan

Self-Portrait in a Cap and Scarf with the Face Dark: Bust (B., Holl. 17; New Holl. 120), etching, 1633. Estimate: £6,000 – 8,000, offered on at Sotheby’s Prints & Multiples auction on 18th March.

AMSTERDAM - Light poured into the elegant, marble-clad spaces of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, which seemed to glow under its vast iron roof, despite last week’s grey and rainy sky. It was the perfect setting for the presentation of the new catalogue raisonné on Rembrandt's etchings in the New Hollstein Dutch series. This treasure trove of works by Rembrandt and other Dutch masters recently re-opened its doors after a 10-year renovation project. The new publication reveals groundbreaking research into the field and brings to light fascinating insights into Rembrandt's printmaking techniques. This seven-volume publication draws us one step closer to a more comprehensive understanding of the most influential etcher of all time.

We were fortunate to be in the presence of leading Rembrandt scholars, including the co-authors of the Hollstein project Erik Hinterding and Jaco Rutgers. It was fascinating to see Christopher White in conversation with Jane Turner (Head of Prints, Rijksmuseum), Frits Garritsen and Gary Schwartz. Christopher White, former Director of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford co-authored with Karel G. Boon the 1969 catalogue raisonné devoted to Rembrandts prints. In the 45 years since, digital photography has allowed Hinterding and Rutgers to compare a much greater number of impressions, integrating new discoveries with existing research. They visited over 100 collections around the world and encountered over 21,000 impressions for the project. This culminated in the impressive discovery of 200 new ‘states’ compared to White and Boon’s book. For the first time, Rembrandt's etchings are organised chronologically, providing an insight and context into how his style developed. 

Rembrandt usually printed and sold his etchings himself, and the subtle changes in states show that this is the case, but the latest Hollstein catalogue breaks new ground by drawing a distinction between impressions that were made by Rembrandt and those that were printed after his death.  

If the young Rembrandt was dissatisfied with a large etching, he would cut it into pieces and then re-use the copper plates individually. The 'recycling' of plates was more common than previously thought. Sheet of Studies (B., Holl. 363; New Holl. 115), which will be offered in our 18th March Prints & Multiples auction in London, is one such example of early, experimental sketches which may have been intended to be cut up. Rutgers suggests that the period circa 1631 was an experimental phase for Rembrandt, a pivotal year in which he began to get to grips with the medium and acquire fluency.

Sheet of Studies: Head of the Artist, a Beggar Couple, Heads of an Old Man and Old Woman, etc. (B., Holl. 363; New Holl. 115), etching, 1632, estimate: £25,000 – 35,000.

The new Hollstein also raises interesting questions about the relationship and nature of collaboration between Rembrandt and Jan van Vliet, an independent Dutch etcher who he worked closely with. Was he part of Rembrandt's ‘workshop’ or an ‘associate’? Was Rembrandt influenced by Van Vliet? Did he pick up tricks of the trade from him in the early years, when Van Vliet was the more 'experienced' printmaker of the two? Hopefully these questions will be points of departure for those who are continuing to research Rembrandt's printed oeuvre and the collaborative nature of some of his etchings.

On 18th March, Sotheby’s will be offering works by Rembrandt and other Dutch printmakers. For more information, please contact +44 (0)207 293 6416.





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