Dec 182009


B1121 maquette with space envelope

B1121 maquette with space envelope

My favourite of all Rembrandt’s life drawings can be analysed in a sculptural way. B1121 is one of several drawings Rembrandt made of Hendrijke in his search for a pose for the Bathsheba in the Louvre. Her stool parallels the two sides of the block from which she could be carved. (Rembrandt seems to have had a natural feeling for sculpture though there is no evidence that he ever made any.) The light illuminates the side plane and strikes across her back defining the forms exquisitely. This is no idealized goddess but a beloved mistress seen as she truly was: no longer in the first bloom of youth. Not the rounded stereotype of the Renaissance but there, to the very life so that I have been able to make a little sculpted maquette of her. Her knee is seen with just that extra squareness about it that Sickert described as typical of Rembrandt (in his appreciation of The Polish Rider). The squareness serves to define the parallel between the top of the knee and the back plane of the space envelope. Degas often uses the same kind of device.

Every mark Rembrandt makes is defining form in space. I made a copy of this drawing during my first year at Camberwell. I hope that lesson will stay with me always. It was a defining moment.

On the other hand the gang of three (from The British Museum, The Rijksmusem and The Boymans in Rotterdam) who met regularly to coordinate their “findings” take a very different view. Mr. Schatborn, (Rijksmuseum) warns “only very few (of Rembrandt’s life drawings) can be assumed with any certainty to have been done by the artist himself”. Mr.Giltaij (Rotterdam) finds the stove in this drawing “incoherent…while the modelling of the back gives the impression of being over detailed and cautious…the contours (of the figure) are weak and hesitant” these appalling misjudgments fly in the face of all previous scholarship, not just mine! I wonder have they ever come across Kandinski’s maxim? – line becomes plane.



This drawing is usually paired with another of Hendrijke in the same pose (B1122) because as Schatborn admits “at first sight the two drawing resemble one another very closely… the nearly identical position of the two figures on the surface of the page – the use of the same ink, the lines that do not describe with precision and touches of transparent water colour”. The two drawings are indeed so identical in feeling, in materials and treatment that it is impossible for any one but an “expert”to doubt that Rembrandt did them both, probably in the same sitting. None the less, the greater of the two (B1121) is now attributed to Aert de Gelder and the lesser is still a Rembrandt. I say lesser because the front plane of her chest is very mildly out of geometry with the side plane. One can see that Hendrijke has slumped forward a little while posing because of the repositioning of her left shoulder. Her left breast was also repositioned but not sufficiently. Otherwise Rembrandt’s sense of form and structure are of the same very high, one could say, canonical order, in both. Is it at all likely that Rembrandt would have invited young Aert in to share this intimate drawing session with his mistress? In the Getty catalogue other students are credited with drawings of Hendrijke.

What can one say, the temerity of the gang knocks the breath out of me. How is it possible to teach drawing in a culture that can tolerate such minds in the top echelons of Rembrandt studies? I saw these two drawings hanging together in the Rijksmuseum exhibition, “Rembrandt and his Workshop”. I nearly had a fit.There was no workshop. It is a modern fabrication to explain away the many painting the RRP have de-attributed. Rembrandt had a good, expensive, school of painting. He was not that great at teaching drawing judging by results. His students are nothing like the master, few are even tolerable draughtsmen but there are hundreds of Rembrandt drawings re-attributed by the “experts” in the recent past to his dull students! Ferdinand Bol has been particularly fortunate in this respect.)

I have said quite a lot about the mistreatment of Rembrandt’s life drawings in my website (save him from the experts, of course.) (For more about Woman seated on a stool take this link) I shall probably say a good bit more here. Please if there is anyone left out there who understands what I am talking about, help me in this crusade. I issued three news sheets at the time of the “Rembrandt and his Workshop” exhibitions (1991). I put on a show in St Martin’s in the Fields for the day of the opening in Trafalgar Square, it was very well received by the hundreds who saw it but for all my efforts the establishment marches on unflinching.
Art matters.
We need to demonstrate in the street, if necessary to stop the rot. Wilfred Owen wrote-
Reach at that arrogance that deserves thy harm,
And beat it down before its sins grow worse

Look around you and see the results on the younger generation who no longer look to Rembrandt for guidance; they can no longer trust him. The gang have no idea of the harm they have done. They are victims of a truly terrible training. The whole apparatus of Rembrandt scholarship must be stopped; and only restarted with an entirely new set of criteria. One of which might be a minimum of three years at a good art school before taking up art history!

I would be pleased to hear from anyone from Harvard where I said diplomatically (in 1978) what I say here, more stridently.

Good friends have suggest I should be more moderate, more reasonable in my approach to the “experts”. In 1977 I was most reasonable, 35 years later I feel it is reasonable to follow Green Peace’s excellent example – be reasonable when you have people to reason with.


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