|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
Antique Prints: Rembrandt
( Original Published 1903 )
That great old connoisseur of Rouen, Eugene Dutuit, in his two portly tomes, the (Euvre Complet de Rembrandt (produced in 1883), catalogues for the convenience of the collector three hundred and sixty-three pieces, though, from his long and careful Introduction, it is evident that he is not altogether uninfluenced by modern views, and is willing to discard some few out of that great array of prints. Wilson, the first important English cataloguer, working in 1836, had catalogued three hundred and sixty-nine. Charles Blanc, about a score of years later, had reduced the number to three hundred and fifty-three. Again, in 1879, the Rev. C. H. Middleton-Wake had brought the number down to three hundred and twenty-nine. It is hardly likely that before the present chapter is completed-a chapter that must be devoted mainly to the more fascinating works of the greatest mind that ever expressed itself in Etching-I shall have said anything of value on what is, for the student, an important question-the question of how much of Rembrandt's long-accepted work the master really executed. For not in a part only of a single chapter of a volume on Fine Prints could it be possible to deal satisfactorily with the arguments for and against certain etchings, the authenticity of which modern Criticism disputes or doubts about. The matter would require not paragraphs, but a volume. Furthermore, for anything approaching a final settlement, it would need such opportunities for comparison as absolutely no one has yet been able to possess. Sir Seymour Haden, whose views upon the subject are more defined than most people's-if likewise it happens that they are more revolutionary-has been pleading for a large exhibition and a committee of experts to settle the matter, and, at this time of writing, the exhibition has not been held nor the committee formed.In regard to its decision, I anticipate as likely to be delivered somewhat earlier, and perhaps with more of unanimity, the utterance of Rome upon that question of "Anglican Orders," which now either vexes or sympathetically engages her.
But if the moment of connoisseurs' agreement upon the question of the precise number of Rembrandt's true Detchings seems yet remote, the beginner in the study of the prints of Rembrandt's may note with benefit two things: first, that there does exist the reasonable and long-sustained doubt in regard principally to the "Beggar" and a few of the Sacred Subjects (for certain landscapes were discarded long ago), and that thus a question has arisen into which the student may inquire cautiously, and, after much preliminary study, exercise his own mind upon; and, second (and here comes in immediate comfort for the collector), that the doubts thrown on two or three score of prints still leave untouched the plates in which intelligent Criticism has recognised masterpieces. Again, and for his further joy, if the collector be but a beginner, or with a purse not deep, he may note that the masterpieces of Rembrandt are of the most various degrees of rarity; that accordingly they differ inexpressibly as to the money value that attaches to them; and that therefore, even nowadays, though the complete or comprehensive collector of Rembrandt will have to be a rich man, a poor man may yet buy, two or three times in every year, some Rembrandt etching, noble in conception, exquisite in workmanship.
A volume like the present is not concerned primarily with the acquisitions of the millionaire, though it has, of course, to take account of them. Let us therefore, just at this stage, ask ourselves what the careful, modestly-equipped buyer does well to do, so that in his portfolios so great a master as Rembraudt shall not be altogether unrepresented, arid shall not be represrented unworthily ? Ought the beginner to confine himself at first to making a selection from one or two groups only, out of the number of groups into which, unless chronological order is to over-ride everything, the prints of Rembrandt not unnaturally divide them selves ? Or ought he to be guided in his choice by some ascertained facts of Rembrandt's history, and by the help of dated plates-or by accepting as fixed and final the conjectures as to date which have proceeded from the newer connoisseurship-seek some representation of the art of Rembrandt at different times of his career? Or ought he, instead of either confining himself to one or two groups or classes of subject, or seeking to trace at all, by the few prints of which he may possess himself, the course of Rembrandt's progress, the changes in his method, see rather that in his portfolios all classes of subject shall have something to represent them, so that at least in this manner the range of the master-which is one of the most marked of his characteristics-shall be suggested ?
The chronological plan, though it has reason on its side and great advantages, and naturally commends itself to the advanced student who is far already on the road to be himself an expert, is scarcely good for the beginner; and this not only because the proper basis of knowledge-the date that is not a shrewd guess, but a quite certain fact-is often wanting; but also because the master's methods in etching, as in painting, were so many, and in a measure at least (even the most varied of them) were contemporaneously exercised, that the attempt to represent periods and manners in a collection numerically insignificant becomes Quixotic or Academic. Perhaps, then, the wisest thing is to take one or two great typical groups. For my own part, I should take Portraiture and Landscape; not of course cramping oneself with such ridiculous limitations as "Portraits of Men," " Portraits of Women "-as if the two, save for convenience of reference, should not invariably be considered together.
I have said, for one of my two groups, Landscape. I justify it by the indisputable pre-eminonce which Rembrandt's etched landscapes enjoy. Even in the dignified and tasteful work of Claude there are only two or three pieces which hold their own in fascination when the memory is charged with the achievements of the Dutchman-a magical effect won out of material intractable, or at the best simple; for that, at most, was Rembrandt's scenery. The landscape etchings of Rembrandt's compatriots, when they come to be measured by his own, assert only topographical accuracy, or faithful persevering study, or, it may be, a little manual dexterity, or their possession of a sense of prettiness which they share even with the work of the amateur. Most of the finest landscape etching of later days not only bears some signs of Rembrandt's influence, but would have been essentially other than it now is if Rembrandt's had not existed. The Dutchman's mark is laid, strong and indelible, even upon individualities so potent and distinguished as Seymour Haden and Andrew Geddes. Whistler, exquisite and peculiar as his genius is, with the figure, and with Thames-side London subjects and subjects of Venice, would, had he treated landscape proper, have either reminded us of Rembrandt, or have etched in some wrong way. He would not have etched in some wrong way-we may take that for granted; he would have reminded us of Rembrandt, with a little of himself besides.
I have shown, I think, how clearly, from the artistic point of view, the new collector is led to love and seek for Rembrandt landscapes. But there is one objection, though it is perhaps not a fatal one, to concentrating his attention upon them. Little of Rembrandt's work, except a few oddities of crazy value, like the First State of the Hundred Guilder, is rarer or more costly than his landscapes. Or, to be more explicit, more absolutely and literally correct, it is rather in this way: that, while for a good example of Rembrandt in any other department of his labours, it is possible of course to be obliged to give much, but likewise (Heaven be praised !) quite possible not to be obliged to give much, you will never without an outlay of a certain importance be possessed of any one of his landscapes in desirable condition. An outlay of £30 may conceivably endow you with a good impression of one of the most desirable of the minor landscapes. That sum may get you, and without your having to wait a quite indefinite time for the acquisition, a View of Amsterdam or a Cottage with White Palinktts. It may even get you a rarer, finer thing, the Landscape with the Obelisk, or that much slighter landscape piece - that summary, though of course in its own way very learned, little performance known as Six's Bridge; the plate which tradition says (probably not untruly) was etched by Rembrandt while the servant of his friend, Jan Six, who had forgotten the mustard, went (somewhere beyond the pantry, however; I should even think that it was outside the house) in rapid search of that condiment.
But there, as far as Landscape is concerned, if £30 or thereabouts is to be the limit of your disbursement upon a single piece, there your collecting stops. If you want a Cottage with. Dutch Hay-Barn -very fine indeed, but not of extreme rarity-sixty, eighty, or a hundred pounds, or more, must be the ransom of it. You want a Landscape with a Ruined Tower-the print which, for well-considered breadth and maintained unity of effect (not so much for dainty finish) is the "last word" of landscape art, the perfect splendid phrase which nothing can appropriately follow, after which there is of necessity declension, if not collapse-it will be a mere accident if fifty guineas gets it for you. It may cost you a couple of hundred. And when? Why, only when a fine collection comes into the market: such a collection as Mr Holford's, three or four years ago, or one at least not at all points inferior to it. And that happens not many times in the life of any one of us. Again, there is the Goldweigher's Field, a bird's-eye view of a plain near the Zuyder Zee; a summary, learned memorandum of the estate and country-house, with all its appurtenances, of Uytenbogaert, the Receiver-General, of whom there is a representation amongst the Rembrandt portraits. If you can afford it, and if fortune smiles upon you by bestowing opportunity of acquisition, you will want not only the less costly portrait of the Goldweigher, but the landscape of the Goldwei,qher's Field. There are rarer things than that in Rembrandt's work-not much that is more desirable. £44 was paid for an impression, probably not quite of the first order, at the Firrnin-Didot sale, £54 at the Liphart, £72 at the Holford. The landscapes yet more difficult to find, command, of course, even higher prices, and this somewhat independently of their artistic interest, which only in a very few cases-and then with very exceptional impressions-equals that of the prints I have already named.
Of these yet rarer landscapes, as well as the other ones, Mr Holford's collection was certainly the finest dispersed in recent times. His sale took place at Christie's in July 1893; and at it, for the View of Omval-an exceptionally splendid impression of a somewhat favourite yet not extraordinarily rare subject£320 was paid by M. Bouillon. The subject, though in impressions of very different quality, had been sold in the Sir Abraham Hume sale for £47, and in the Duke of Buccleuch's for £44. £170 was paid for the Three Trees, the one Rembrandt landscape which has a touch of the sensational, which adds to its real merit the obvious and immediate attractiveness of the dramatic effect. Herr Meder, the dealer of Berlin, bought the First State of The Three Cottages for £275. The sum of £210 was the ransom of the First State of the slightly arched print A Village with the Square Tower. The impression, which was from the Aylesford collection, was of unparalleled brilliance, and the State is of extraordinary rarity, though M. Dutuit notes its presence at Amsterdam and at the British Museum. To M. Bouillon was knocked down for £260 a faultless impression of The Canal, a print which at the Galichon sale had passed under the hammer for £80, and even at the Buccleuch for £120. Messrs Colnaghi bought for 1145 a most sparkling impression of the rare First State of the broadly treated Landscape with a Ruined Tower, more properly called by the French cataloguers Paysaqe & la Tour, for in this First State there is no sign of "ruin." Doubtless when the title by which it is known in England was first applied to it, the amateur was unfamiliar with this rarest State, in which the dome of the tower is intact. In the Second State it has disappeared, and in the Third there are other minor changes. The reader will remember that already, two or three pages back, I have referred to this print as a masterpiece, than which none is more desirable or more representative. A perfect impression of the Landscape with a Flock of Sheep (from the John Barnard collection) sold for L245; the First State of the Landscape with, an Obelisk for L185; an Orchard with a Barn (the early State, before the plate was cut at either end) for £170; and the First State of the Landscape with a Boat-an impression extraordinarily full of "bur"-for £200. Altogether, the Rembrandts in the Holford sale-and I shall have to refer to some of them again before I finish the chapter-sold for £16,000. Richard Fisher's Rembrandts had fetched about £1500; Sir Abraham Hume's, £4000; Sir Seymour Haden's, 14700; the Duke of Buccleuch's, something over £10,000. The last is a figure which was never expected to be surpassed-hardly, perhaps, to be equalled. Yet it was surpassed very much.
But now it is high time I said a little about the desirableness of Rembrandt portraits and about their money value. No engraved portraiture in all the world, not even the mezzotints after Sir Joshua, present with so much power so great a range of varied character. For an artistic treatment of Humanity equally sterling and austere, you must go back to Holbein's drawings. For a variety as engaging, a vividness and flexibility as sure of their effect, only the pastels by La Tour in the Museum of St Quentin rival these Rembrandt records of Jew and Gentile, old and young, and rich and poor in Amsterdam.
As in painting, so in etching, Rembrandt was himself one of his best models. In no less than thirtyfour of his prints-according to the Catalogue of Wilson-do we find he has portrayed, at different ages, his homely, striking, penetrating face. Sometimes he is a youth; sometimes the burden of experience is visibly laid on him; sometimes he is engrossed with work, as in the superb Rembrandt Drawing; sometimes, as in the Rembrandt with a Sabre, masquerading; sometimes he is depicted with great fulness of record; sometimes, as in the admirable little rarity, Wilson 364 (not catalogued amongst the Rembrandt portraits, because the plate has other heads as well), a few lines, chosen with the alacrity and certainty of genius, bring him before us, sturdy, sagacious, and with mind bent upon a problem he is sure to solve. The Rembrandt with a Sabre, at the Holford sale-a thing almost unique-fell to the bid of M. Deprez of £2000, and has joined now the other extraordinary possessions of Baron Edmond De Rothschild. At the Holford sale, the Rembrandt with a Turned-up Hat and Embroidered Mantle-an almost unique First State, drawn on by Rembrandt, but none the better on that accountfetched £420. Of the Rembrandt Drawing there were two impressions. One of them, which Mr MiddletonWake assures us is the First, and which Wilson justly describes as at all events " the finest," sold for £280 to Herr Meder. The impression was of unmatched brilliancy and vigour, the whole thing as spontaneous and impulsive as anything in Rembrandt's work. The second impression sold-an impression to which the honours of a true Second State are now assigned-fetched £82, and was borne away by Mr Gutekunst of Stuttgart.
That famous Holford sale, in which, as I have said already, the Rembrandt with the Sabre sold for a couple of thousand, and in which the "Hundred Guilder" (Christ Healing the Sick) beat at least its own record, and was sold for £1750, contained among the portraits an impression of the elaborate Ephraim Bonus, "with the black ring," the only one with this singular and somewhat petty distinction which could ever come into the market; the remaining impressions being tied up permanently at the British Museum and the BibliotUque Nationale. M. Danlos took it across the Channel, having paid £1950 for the opportunity of doing so. The Birgomaster Six, an almost mezzotintlike portrait in general effect-highly wrought, and with an obvious delicacy-always fetches a high price. At the Holford sale an impression called "Second State" fell to Colnaghi's bid of £380. At the Seymour Haden, one called a "Third"-a very exquisite impression-reached £390. It came from the collection of Sir Abraham Hume, and Sir Seymour, in the Preface to his sale catalogue, properly pointed out that with the Six, as with the Ephraim Bonus, what are practi cally trial-proofs have been erected into "States." The Third State of the Old Haarinq, a portrait of a venerable, kindly, perhaps ceremonious gentleman, who practised the profession of an auctioneer, is scarcely less rare than the rest. When found among the Holford treasures, it sold for £190.
For nearly the same price the benign portrait of John Lutma, the goldsmith-an impression in the First State, however, "before the window and the bottle"-passed into the hands of the same buyer. That plate-one of the most admirable in the work of Rembrandt-affords, in its First State, an instance of the artificial advantage of mere rarity. Because certain collectors are accustomed to see it more or less worn, with the window and the bottle behind the seated figure, they will never give for it, even when it is not worn-if the window and the bottle happen to be there-one-third the sum that they pay willingly when those objects are absent, which Rembrandt knew were wanted to complete the composition. Now, in the case of the Great Jewish Bride-a portrait really of Rembrandt's wife, Saskia, with flowing hair-the background is a loss, clearly, the earlier State being invariably the finer and the more spontaneous. With the Lutma it is not so. There is no doubt that the additions add charm, add luminousness, to the general effect; but the fine eye is wanted, the eye of the real expert, to see to it that the impression which contains these is yet an impression in which deterioration is not visible-that it is, in fact, one of the very earliest impressions after the additions had been made.
To make an end of the record of great prices fetched by the portraits in the Holford sale, let it be said that the Cornelius Sylvius-the impression Wilson pronounced to be the finest-sold for 1450; that a Second State of the rare, and on that account, as I suppose, the favourite portrait of the Advocate Van Tolling, fetched £530; whilst an exceedingly effective impression of the big portrait of Coppenol, the writing-master, realised no less than £1350.
But without touching any one of these great rarities, modest collectors, whose modesty yet does not go the length of making them satisfied with second-rate Art, may still have noble portraits. Six or seven guineasI mean, of course, when opportunity arises-secures you the quite exquisite and delicately modelled croquis (but is it not, after all, something more than a croquis?) called Portrait of a Woman, lightly etched. Rembrandt was very young when he did that, yet his art was mature, his point unspeakably vivacious. It is a portrait of his mother. So again, the Mere de Rembrandt au voile noir-the lady sitting, somewhat austere this time, with set mouth, and the old full-veined hands folded in rest-never, I think, in its happiest impression costs more than £20-may very likely cost you a good deal less. Ten guineas will very likely be the ransom of that charming portrait of a boy-child in profile, which was once thought to record the features of Titus, Rembrandt's son, and then those of the little Prince of Orange. It is a delightful vision of youth, demure and chubby, and in its dainty drawing of light and silky hair, does even Whistler's Fanny Leyland rival it? Are you disposed to venture £30, £40, £50 ? Then may you, in due time, add to your group a First State of the most subtle portrait of that meditative print-seller, Clement de Jonghe It is treated with singular breadth and luminousness, and of character it is a profound revelation. By the time the Third State is reached-and a good Third State may be worth fifteen or twenty pounds-the thing has changed. Indeed, it has changed already a little in the Second. But in the Third, further work has endowed the personage with the air of a more visible romance; and in the two succeeding States this is preserved, though the wear of course becomes perceptible. It is well, by way of contrast, to possess yourself of this more sentimental record-the Third, if possible, in preference to the Fourth or Fifth Statebesides, of course, that subtler and far finer vision of the personage which is ensured by the First State alone. The time may soon be upon us when a First State of Clement de Jonghe will be worth, not thirty or forty, but sixty or eighty guineas. It has always been appreciated, but it has not yet been appreciated at its true worth. Nothing in all the great etched work of Rembrandt is in craftsmanship more unobtrusively magnificent, and in its suggestion of complex character nothing is more subtle.
It was well, perhaps, to insist particularly on the desirableness, for study and possession, of these two great branches of the etched work of Rembrandt, the Landscapes and the Portraits. It would be ridiculous to attack the authenticity of any piece that I have mentioned. No one, so far as I am aware, has ever thought of doing so; so that with these, at all events, as well as with many others, the collector is safe. But my insistence on the things I have selected will not deter explorers from adventures that interest them. The unction, the vividness, and the essential dignity even of those Sacred Subjects from which he is at first repelled by the presence there so abundantly of the ungainly and the common, will in the end attract the collector. He will recognise that there was pathos in the life Rembrandt imagined, as well as in the life that he observed. And in the Academical studies, the representations of the Nude, he will recognise that there is Style constantly, and beauty now and then. One or two of these, at least, he will like to have, if he can. Two of them seem to me better and more desirable than the rest. One is that study of a recumbent woman-Naked Woman seen from behindwhich the French sometimes call Negresse couchee; but she is not " Negress " at all, but only a stripped woman beheld in deepish shadow. This is one of the least rare. Five or six pounds will often buy it. The other is the Woman with the Arrow. A slimmer, lighter, younger woman than is usual with Rembrandt, sits, with figure turned prettily, on the edge of a bed. The drawing is not academically perfect, but the picture is at least living flesh, graceful of pose, and seen in an admirable arrangement of shadow and of light. This Woman with the Arrow fetched, in the Kalle sale, L26; in the Knowles sale, £32.
The so-called "Free Subjects " are few, and the rudest of them, Ledikant, which has yet a touch of comedy in it (for Rembrandt was an observer always), is fortunately of extreme rarity. With not a single one of these ought the collector to be concerned. Some French artists have known how to make their choice of such subjects pardonable by treating them with grace; but the eroticism of Rembrandt-happily most occasional-is, in the very grossness of its obvious comedy, reeking with offence.In regard to the arrangement of the prints by the master who is the head and front of the Dutch school, and the consummate practitioner of Etching-I mean, the arrangement in the student's mind, and not only the arrangement in the solander-box-the question of the artist's method of execution plays a not unimportant part. Are you to classify your possessions in order of date, or in accordance with subject, or with reference to style and manner of work? That third method, however, would be found in its result not very different from the arrangement by date. Broadly speaking, it would have affinity with that. For, as Sir Seymour Haden tells us in an interesting Lecture called "Rembrandt True and False," which the Macmillans issued in 1895, the Burlington Club Exhibition was itself sufficient "to disclose the interesting fact that, dividing the thirty years of Rembrandt's etching career into three parts or decades, his plates during the first of these decades were for the most part etched" bitten in," that is, by a mordant-in the second, that after having been so bitten in, their effect was enhanced by the addition of "dry-point"; and in the third, that, discarding altogether the colder chemical process, the artist had generally depended on the more painter-like employment of " dry-point alone." And in regard to methods of work, Sir Seymour in this Lecture discredited the statement that Rembrandt was full of mysterious contrivances, and that his success as an etcher owed much to these. "All the great painterengravers, in common with all great artists, worked simply and with the simplest tools. It is only the mechanical engraver and copyist who depends for what he calls his `quality' on a multiplicity of instrumental aids which, in fact, do the work for him-the object of the whole of them being to make that work as easy to an assistant as to the engraver himself, and its inevitable effect, to reduce that which was once an art to the level of a metier."