Lines and Colors art blog

Rembrandt 400

Now here’s an occasion worth celebrating.

Today marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, the rootenist, tootenist, high-falootenist six-brush packing hombre ever to put lines and colors on a surface! Yow!

Rembrandt, as you might guess, is one of my very favorite artists of any kind, any time, any which way you look at it.

He was perhaps the most fluid, facile and prolific draughtsman in the history of art and is often referred to as the finest of painters. I mean this guy was the man.

His paintings have an immediacy and a presence that carry the impact of the most powerful of old master techniques, with incredibly realized faces glowing out at you from the lusterous depths of layers of transparent glazes, combined with a stunningly modern application of paint in bold physical splashes. I mean big, thick chunks of white for highlights right on top of layer after layer of smooth, painstakingly painted tones, Rembrandt was both a culmination of the traditions that came before him and a leap into the future.

Rembrandt’s paintings are quiet, rowdy, calm, violent, introspective, boisterous, dramatic, soothing, jarring, dark and brilliant.

And his drawings… ah, Rembrandt’s drawings… what a world they invite you into. Seemingly simple quick strokes of reed pen and bistre ink that captured the world in front of his eyes like a magic lantern, brilliant scribbles that are towns, houses, trees, people and animals created out of so few lines and such expressive strokes that it could only be the result of some kind of artistic alchemy, Rembrandt’s drawings are the place where pen and paper fell in love.

Did I mention that he was a master of chiaroscuro, the creation of form though strong contrasts of dark and light, giving his work extraordinary drama and power? No? Well, I should mention that. Did I mention that he was astonishingly prolific, leaving us over 600 paintings, 300 etchings and more than 2000 drawings (and God knows how many have been lost)? No? Well, I should mention that. And did I mention that he was probably the finest etcher that ever lived? No? Well, I should mention that too.

Rembrandt’s paintings, etchings and drawings are impressive enough in books and online reproductions, but you must see them in person to understand.

I am very much looking forward to a major exhibit: Strokes of Genius: Rembrandts Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery in Washington this November.

See my post about the Rembrandt vs. Caravaggio exhibit for more information on the celebration of his 400th in Amsterdam, including special exhibits, events and even stage plays, and my post about Rembrandt’s Drawings for more of my effusive ramblings about how cool he was.

Then go to Jonathan Janson’s amazing site devoted to the artist and his works: Rembrandt: life , paintings, etchings, drawings and self protraits, specifically to the page listing museums that have Rembrandt works in their collections, look up a museum near you and visit a Rembrandt today.

Lok Jansen writes to add that the Rijksmuseum has superb, high-resolution images online of many Rembrandt works. Choose an image from the thumbnail scroller and click on it to view that image, then click on “Enlarge” for the hi-res version.


12 responses to “Rembrandt 400”

  1. Super resources, Charley. I’ll post this on my blog with a link to you.

  2. Jim N. Avatar

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the seemingly alchemical magic of Rembrandt’s work. It has to be seen in person to be truly appreciated. He was the ultimate artist’s artist, a true master in every sense of the word.

    He deserves a rousing cry of “Happy Birthday!”.


  3. What can I say? We Dutch have allways rocked at this stuff 😉

  4. Thanks for the links!

    I laughed out loud at the rootin’-tootin’ description, contrasted with his scowlin’ self-portrait with the palette.

  5. Rembrandt taught me how to see in the dark. I mean, how to take the darks in a work as far in importance as the lights. Sexist that I am, I used to be able to tell that a work I was seeing in a magazine showing educated 20th century works, was done by a female. The give away was fear of going dark shown in the work.

    “Rembrandt’s paintings, etchings and drawings are impressive enough in books and online reproductions, but you must see them in person to understand.”

    They *are* impressive enough. It’s always exasperating when a well meaning friend tells me that I must see my art heroes in person. I’ve heard a similar notion expressed by fellow Vietnam Veterans who say “you had to be there to understand”. I disagree. If one knows the principles (in art the media and techniques), seeing the art in books is good enough, just as reading a book or seeing a movie about the VN war (though none have been produced that show the key to understanding, i.e., universality) could make it understandable to any intelligent reader.

    I’ve seen the Rembrandt self-portrait in the Indianapolis Museum. Not close up–there’s a chain keeping one some distance away. Still, with good eyes then, I admit there’s something about seeing it in person, some aura surrounding knowing that the master saw deeper than my own eyes can fathom.

  6. Yes Rembrandt is an incredible painter, but I personally go nuts about his drawings. Can’t get over his pen and ink sketches and etches. Its so loose, and so under control, its crazy.
    Here is an amazing link to the Rijksmuseum site, with hi res images (i mean paper fibre identifiable)
    Don’t forget to check out the other amazing art while you’re there…

  7. Nita,

    Glad you think your readers will enjoy the post, thanks.

    lines and colors readers will want to check out Nita Leland’s site, Exploring Color and Creativity, which is full of great resources.

    Leland’s new book, New Creative Artist is available now from Amazon and can be ordered from your local indpendent bookstore or chain bookstore.

  8. Jim, Thanks for your comments. I agree, we should raise a glass of Dutch ale and salute his birthday every year!

  9. Arne,

    You’re right, I think if you took a survey of countries and ranked them by great artists per capita, the Dutch would come out on top.

    Other readers should check out, Arne van der Ree’s portfolio of illustration, comics, portraits and more.

  10. Brian,

    Yeah. Didn’t have a self-portrait with six-gun.

    Readers will want to check out Brian Moore Draws, which features his charming watercolor illustrations, comics and cartoons.

  11. Robert,

    Thanks for you comments. Interesting thought about the use of darks. Hmmm…

    I think the technology, particular the photographic technology, is certainly improving in terms of delivering better reproductions of artists’ works in print, particularly in view of the superb reproductions posted on the Rijksmuseum site, as Lok points out in the comment after yours.

    That level of quality and attention to detail in the reproduction of drawings seems rare, however, and drawings suffer even more than paintings in reproduction.

    Also, there are some characteristics of paintings, notably light reflecting off of the surface of opaque paint through layers of transparent glazes, that are actual physical optical effects and cannot be adequately conveyed in flattened images.

    On the other hand, I certainly agree that you can get a great deal from images of works, they still have a power and presence that shows them for what they are. Even given my preference for seeing the real works whenever possible, I would still have to say the most of the art I have seen and know about is from photographic reproductions.

  12. Lok,

    Wow! Right you are! Great images. I would also say that Rembrandt’s drawings are by far what I respond to. There are a number of painters that I like above Rembrandt, but his drawings are at the absolute top of my list of favorites. I’ve added an addendum to the post. Thanks!