Eye Candy for Today: Rembrandt riverfront drawing

View over the Amstel from the Rampart,  Rembrandt van Rijn, ink and wash drawing
View over the Amstel from the Rampart, Rembrandt van Rijn

Brown ink and wash, roughly 3 1/2 x 7 inches (9 x 18 cm); in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, DC.

Though a number of Rembrandt’s drawings, particularly those of figures or religious scenes, can be identified as preliminary to particular paintings of graphic works, his landscape drawings seem to have been done for their own sake.

No one can say with certainty what Rembrandt’s intention or state of mind was in regard to a particularly drawing, of course, but I can’t look at a drawing like this without thinking that it was done purely for the pleasure of drawing.

This feels to me like the work of someone who could take up pen and paper and let the burdens of the world fade into the distance while focused on the scene in front of him.

There is evidence throughout of keen, clear observation (like the blades of the multiple windmills), yet Rembrandt in his mastery makes the notation seem casual and relaxed.

I love the effect of distance he achieved by using thicker, heavier strokes (perhaps with a different instrument or ink) in the foreground.

Though the term would have been meaningless in Rembrandt’s time, to our modern sensibilities, the aspect ratio of the image could be described as cinematic — capturing a panorama of riverfront structures and activity in addition to the city beyond.

Don’t take my detail crops above be the only view you get of the image at a large size. Go to the Google Art Project or National Gallery page and view the drawing zoomed in at full screen. Perhaps, like me, you can project yourself onto the bank at Rembrandt’s side, and feel the wind push the sails of the ships along the river as his pen captures the moment.


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