Exactly the same location is shown, from a viewpoint slightly more to the right, in a drawing in the Edmond de Rothschild Collection at the Louvre, and also, from closer up, in another drawing in Stockholm.1 It is a typical Rembrandt subject: a humble and seemingly anonymous farm amongst trees. Yet as long ago as the beginning of the 20th century, the young Frits Lugt realised that Rembrandt’s drawings of this type actually depicted, very faithfully, the buildings and views that he saw along the routes of a number of walks that he seems to have made on a regular basis, out from Amsterdam into the surrounding fields and polders. In his extraordinary publication of 1915, Wandelingen met Rembrandt in en om Amsterdam (‘Walks with Rembrandt in and around Amsterdam’), Lugt sought to define the routes that Rembrandt walked, and identify as many as he could of the locations that he passed, as depicted in the artist’s surviving landscape drawings and prints.
This quest was revisited in the brilliant exhibition created by the Amsterdam Archives and the Lugt Collection (Fondation Custodia) Paris, in 1998 (see Literature), when an extraordinary number of locations depicted in Rembrandt’s landscapes were newly identified, and his walks recreated with the actual drawings and prints that he made in these different spots. It was then that Boudewijn Bakker and his fellow authors identified the farmstead seen in the present drawing, linking it with a 1666 drawing of the same location by Johannes Leupenius, in Rotterdam, which is inscribed op de wegh van Sloten (on the way from Sloten) J. Leupen 1666.2 The village of Sloten lay a little to the south-west of Amsterdam along a route that Rembrandt walked regularly (walk V, in Lugt’s Wandelingen…), leaving Amsterdam by the Heiligewegspoort, and continuing out along the Overtoomsevaart to Amstelveen and Sloten.
The fundamental question, though, that is posed by the existence of this drawing and the associated sheet in the Louvre is, did Rembrandt himself make both these drawings, either one after the other or on different visits to the same location, or were they made at one and the same moment, one by Rembrandt and one by a pupil or colleague, the two artists sitting beside one another? Our judgement of the style of the drawing is complicated by the fact that the grey and brown washes were clearly added, at a later date, by another hand. The Louvre drawing, which also belonged in the 19th century to the English collector William Esdaile, has rather similar added grey wash, but less of it, and the extent to which the wash distracts our stylistic judgement of the underlying pen drawing is correspondingly less. While all agree that the drawing in the Louvre is by Rembrandt, scholarly opinions on the authorship of the pen and ink elements of the present drawing are divided. Martin Royalton-Kisch feels that the handling of the pen in the two drawings is so similar that both should be attributed to Rembrandt. Peter Schatborn and Holm Bevers, on the other hand, consider the idea of two artists sitting alongside each other to be more convincing, and Schatborn tends towards an attribution to Rembrandt’s pupil Pieter de With.3 Although there is no documentary record that De With actually studied with Rembrandt, he is generally believed to have done so, in the early 1650s – the dating assigned to this drawing by Benesch, when he published it as a Rembrandt.
Although the drawing is mentioned in passing in the 1998 exhibition catalogue (see Literature), the authors very reasonably observe that ‘the quality of the available reproduction does not encourage further comment on this sheet’. But even with the benefit of a good image, all the scholars named above are at pains to point out that the landscapes sketches of this type pose some of the most difficult connoisseurship challenges in the entire field of the drawings by Rembrandt and his circle.
The drawing remains, however, a fine and rare testament to Rembrandt’s unique and deeply spiritual engagement, during a period of a decade or so in the middle of his career, with the seemingly anonymous details of the landscape surrounding his home city of Amsterdam, details which this extraordinary corpus of drawings elevate from humble simplicity to the height of noble grandeur.
1. Paris, Louvre, inv. no. 187 dR; Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, inv. 54/1919; Benesch, op.cit., 1973, nos. 1287 and 1289 respectively
2. Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, inv. MB 192; W. Sumowski, Drawings of the Rembrandt School, vol. 7, New York 1983, no. 1559
3. For the most complete comparative analysis of the landscape drawings of Rembrandt and De With, see Drawings by Rembrandt and his Pupils, Telling the Difference, exhib. cat., Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009-10, pp. 216-225
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