Rembrandt Drawings

Rembrandt drawings are my personal favorite in the Famous Artists Gallery. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) was a Dutch painter and drawer, living during the Dutch Golden age.

Very early, Rembrandt was interested by drawing, so much that he continued even though his family paid to send him to Leyde University. In the 1620s, after having completed his schooling, he opened his first art studio/workshop along with Jan Lievers.

Later on, due to his sucess and fame, Rembrandt decided to move to Amsterdam in 1629. Financially secure, he bought a house in a rich neighbourhood of Amsterdam.  Despite his wife's death in 1634, he remained an inspired artist and painted the celebrated "Night Watch".

Tragically, despite his comfortable financial circumstance, he then went on to sink further into debt throughout the rest of his life, ending by having to sell his house.  He died an impoverished man in 1669.

Rembrandt, Self Portrait Staring

Rembrandt paintings are deservedly famous, but the Rembrandt drawings are almost as well known.  This was in great part due to his considerable talent as an engraver. 

         Rembrandt, Lion resting.

The Rembrandt drawings show that despite his being a great painter, he also gave great importance to mastering the art of drawing.  This particular form of art would make it possible for him to experiment and explore the effects of light and shadow much more easily and much faster than in paint.  They were the basis on which he developed the particular portrait lighting which even today we refer to as "Rembrandt" lighting" (light on one side of the face, and a triangle of light - no wider than the eye - on the shadowed part of the face). 

While many artists chose between drawing either people or landscapes, the Rembrandt drawings are pretty much divided equally between the two.

Also, contrary to some artists who used models for their drawings, the Rembrandt drawings prove to often contain observed street scenes, from the artist's Amsterdam, thereby making Rembrandt something of a forerunner of Realism. 

Rembrandt, Huisje met houten omheining tussen bomen.

What did he use to draw ?

Rembrandt, Man Pulling a Rope.

Like many artists of his time, Rembrandt used red chalk, and indeed many of the Rembrandt drawings are in this media also known as sanguine. He clearly enjoyed working with it and employed it to develop sometimes astonishing detail in his drawings.

Other Rembrandt drawings use black chalk.  The artist would turn to black chalk especially when he wanted to realize a quickly done yet somewhat developed sketch. 

Rembrandt, Diana at Her Bath.

Rembrandt, Cottage In a Storm.

The Rembrandt drawings however are the greatest proof of the artist's talent with ink. There are a great many of these, which he realized by using both brushes and pens.  These two techniques made it possible for him to vary the intensity of his line, but also to create sometimes very special atmospheres, as can be seen in the little ink drawing to the left, the Cottage in a Storm.


The most impressive of Rembrandt drawings was undoubtedly those he created in the form of etchings. Etchings are a complicated business; they call for carving the drawing into wax spread in a very precise, controlled manner on a metal plate, before putting it in a dangerous chemical bath for acid to bite into the metal and make the plate.  The plate is then rolled over with ink and fitted to a press to squash the ink out of the crevices and onto a piece of paper - hence the etching.

Throughout his lifetime Rembrandt would be known as a great engraver, employing subtle hatching and crosshatching (parallel and crisscrossed lines) to create tone and shading. He also experimented with many different kinds of paper, including Japenese sheets. 

Rembrandt, The Hundred Guilder Print

Rembrandt was justly celebrated for his gifts as a draughtsman, and clearly considered drawings an art in themselves.  This was contrary to the thinking of other artists of his time, for whom drawing was a many of doing a rough study prior to realizing a piece of art, ie, a painting.

Today, about 1400 of his drawings are counted as from his hand, although there is much doubt about whether he was indeed the author of all of them, and others may have been lost in the passing of the centuries and today lacking from his catalog. 

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1. Cottage Trees (between 1648-1650) is a very "complete" drawing by Rembrandt owing to its wonderful and complex composition. It's a great example of Rembrandt's use of heavy strokes to indicate light and shadow (i.e the cottage roof). Interestingly, extra paper was added to the right hand side of the work to extend the branch of the tree, as well as the horizon.

2. Man Pulling a Rope (between 1627-1628) is an example of Rembrandt's use of sanguine. He also made use of toned paper to great effect in creating a sense of light and shadow. 

3.  Diana at Her Bath (between 1630-1631) is a chark drawing which is an example of Rembrandt's unerring eye for detail.  Diana is represented as the model must have appeared to the artist, and certainly not was idealized to fit canons of beauty. This drawing is interesting to set aside Rembrandt's painting "Bathsheba at Her Bath" from 1654.

Saint Jerome (17th century) depicts the saint at his prayers. At the time, St Jerome was most often represented as a cardinal, and Rembrandt's decision to portray him in rags could have been either a reflection of his religious beliefs or his love for for realism.

5. The drawing known as Saskia's Room (17th century) is one in which quite probably the woman depicted in the bed is indeed his first wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh. Given the private atmosphere of the room, we can assume he just dashed this one off quickly, especially on looking at the strong, quick lines.

6. Saint Peter (17th century) is a drawing in chalk. Once again, the fact of Saint Peter being represented in rags rather than rich clothes raises the same interesting questions.

N7. Trees Near a Pond (17th century) is a terrific example of Rembrandt's great love for realism, here in ink applied with a brush.  Just look at the reflection of the trees in the water!

8. Saskia Sleeping (1654) was done in ink with a brush, and most probably is indeed his common-law wife Saskia. Rembrandt uses the brush here to make quick, precise lines but also the create the darkness of the room - reinforcing a certain sense of gloom and shadow.

9. Youth Pulling a Rope (between 1656-1558) is an ink and wash drawing, showing a young man pulling on a rope, although he doesn't work as hard as the older gentleman Rembrandt put to this task, above.  The voluminously-dressed figure tells us the artist was studying the lines of movement more than the actual shape of the young man's body.

Rembrandt, Recumbant Lion Facing Right

Rembrandt, Boas and Ruth

Rembrandt, Elsje Christiaens

Rembrandt, Recumbant Lion Facing Left

Rembrandt, Cottage Among Trees

Rembrandt, Four Orientals Under a Tree

Rembrandt, Jacob van Loon

Rembrandt, Jesus and the Adultress

Rembrandt, Lot Drunk

Rembrandt, Nude as Susanna

Rembrandt, Self Portrait with Cap

Rembrandt, Schellingwou Seen From the Diemerdijk

Rembrandt, Self Portrait

Rembrandt, Self Portrait

Rembrandt, Self Portrait

Rembrandt, Self Portrait

Rembrandt, View of Grimnessesluis Bridge

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