The Genius of Rembrandt Captured in Print

Rembrandt van Rijn – Christ at Emmaus: The Larger Plate, etching with drypoint on laid paper, circa 1654, posthumous fourth state

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the death of the Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669).

An artist of towering reputation, by the 1630s Rembrandt had become a highly respected artist. His fame and reputation as a painter ensured that his prints were seen as originals and not mere reproductions. In the 1630s and 1640s Rembrandt’s Amsterdam studio was very important attracting the attention and influencing a generation of artists.

Rembrandt achieved fame and success as a young man but would narrowly avoid bankruptcy in 1656 by an arrangement with the court to sell his house and its contents. The inventory of the sale still survives and provides an important insight into his collection and its influences on his work. It records that he owned Italian pictures, engravings after Raphael and other Italian masters, and a book said to have been illustrated by Mantegna.

Take for example Rembrandt van Rijn’s wonderful study of the story of the Supper at Emmaus from St Luke’s Gospel illustrated here. He exploits the creative process of printing to great effect. Drawing on the influence of the Italian artist Caravaggio Rembrandt employs the effects of chiaroscuro – strongly contrasted light and shadow affecting not only the composition but also the sense of volume.

It is a good inky impression. This is the fourth posthumous state indicating that it was pulled from the plate which Rembrandt himself had engraved in 1654 either at the end of his life or within a few years of his death. The composition and use of light is remarkable focusing our attention on the risen Jesus Christ as he reveals who he is to the two disciples who have unknowingly accompanied him on the road to Emmaus. As he breaks bread the story is united with the Last Supper and his Passion. Jesus’ expression as he looks on his follower is filled with empathy and tenderness. And in the shadows there is that marvellous dog.

Contemporary collectors of his prints afforded Rembrandt a freedom of expression which was sometimes lacking amongst the patrons of his paintings.

Etching allowed him to explore his deepening feelings for humanity which is ariculated with a freedom, insight and intimacy beyond the formal conventional portraiture of his time.

Rembrandt van Rijn – Studies of the Head of Saskia and others, etching on laid paper, circa 1636, with part of a Strasbourg Lily watermark

A good example of this is the etching, Studies of the Head of Saskia and others, from 1636. The love and tenderness with which he depicts her is readily apparent. Saskia, nee van Ulyenburgh, was the love of his life. Rembrandt’s art dealer, Hendrick van Uylenburgh, was Saskia’s cousin. Rembrandt was living and working with Hendrick and the couple met there in 1633 and were married soon after in 1634. Saskia died giving birth to their son, Titus, in 1642. Rembrandt was devastated.

Today Rembrandt’s works printed during his lifetime fetch thousands of pounds at auction. In contrast, despite his brilliance, Rembrandt died a pauper and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Toovey’s Director and specialist, Nicholas Toovey, is preparing his next curated auction of prints which will be held on 20th February 2019. He is always delighted to share his passion for prints with others and offer advice. He can be contacted on 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Inspired by the Landscape

Rupert Toovey at Petworth Park
Rupert Toovey at Petworth Park

Inspired by the Horsham Museum & Art Galleries latest exhibition of local landscapes I have been trying to walk off my Christmas indulgence, with my terrier Bonnie in the beauty of the Sussex countryside. And what strikes me is how influential and important human stewardship and industry has been to the appearance and beauty of our landscape.

A great favourite of ours is the circular walk at the top of Chantry Hill at the back of Storrington. From the car park you follow the footpath to the west. The views carry your eye across the undulating hills of the Angmering Park Estate to the sea at Worthing and the Isle of Wight. Leaving the main path and heading North the ground steadily rises until the view opens onto the Sussex Weald. A few hundred yards to the east between Kithurst Hill and Chantry Hill you come upon a late Bronze Age / Iron Age cross dyke. The deep ditch and steep embankment still defines its boundary and affords the most wonderful views with Storrington below. As you walk in this man made earthworks you have a real sense of the ancient and your place in the procession of history. It is farming which has created and preserved the Downland landscape which surrounds it.

At Petworth Park the qualities of the picturesque are alive in Capability Brown’s man made landscape, preserved and maintained by The National Trust.

Bonnie delighted to be on the Bronze Age cross dyke on Chantry Hill

Bonnie and I love to walk through the park and around the lake. The house and park are united in the landscape. Here you come upon a series of constructed, vignette views onto sweeping areas of grass, curving lakes and beautifully conceived woodland clumps of trees. It is as though you are walking in a series paintings.

This aesthetic was born out of the rococo in reaction to the formal straight lines and topiary of the French royal gardens designed by André Le Notre (1613-1700), which had been made popular in England in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by George London (d.1714) and Henry Wise (1653-1738). Together they had created the parterres not only at Petworth but also at Hampton Court Palace, Chatsworth and Longleat.

In early 18th century England there was a political desire, held by both the Whig government and Hanoverian King George I, to distance themselves from the excesses of the French Court at Versailles. This combined with a fascination for ‘unbounded nature’. In this climate Capability Brown’s park landscapes evolved in dialogue with his patrons. Perhaps this is why his idealised landscapes speak into the hearts and imaginations of the English and, in part, define us.

Sussex and her landscape continues to inspire successive generations of artists, writers and composers as she has over the centuries. I look forward to exploring the Sussex landscape and the continuing contribution of its contemporary stewards to the identity and heritage of the county.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.