Aug 182019
The one big difference between my interpretation of Rembrandt’s character as an artist and the characterisation of modern scholars is that I see him as an observer and they insist that he was an imaginative inventor. Benesch writing in “Rembrandt Selected Drawings” (1947)   suggested that Rembrandt drew his biblical subjects from an “inner vision…as if he seen them in reality”. Whereas Houbraken (167 ) Rembrandt’s contemporary writes exactly the opposite he said Rembrandt “would not attempt a single brush stroke without living model before his eyes” and I have found massive evidence in the drawings themselves that 98% agrees with Houbraken. In fact all Rembrandt’s contemporaries say much same.
Benesch  was writing in the 1947 but today’s scholars seem in complete agreement inasmuch as they have stuck with his method of dating by style and savagely prune those drawings that dont fit in with his ideas; where I have proved over and over again that his ideas were founded on the erroneous assumptions oft repeated in his “Selected Drawings” of Rembrandt’s imagination. I gave ample evidence of this in my article “Rembrandt’s Use of Models and Mirrors” (Burlington February 77) and have added to that evidence with many videos on YouTube; nonetheless, the evidence has been neglected by the scholars.
My evidence backs up Rembrandt’s contemporaries who all described the character I have recovered through his works. My version of Rembrandt would expand the catalogue of drawings, perhaps 30% over Benesch’s “Complete Drawings” – Benesch believed in about 1500 of them. While P. Schatborn, once of The Rijksmuseum, more recently claims to believe in only 500 drawings by Rembrandt (in the Getty catalogue “Rembrandt and his Pupils”). I believe in approximately 2200 and  am scandalized by Schatborn’s judgments.
Though I have not had the lifetime of experience among the originals that Schatborn has enjoyed, I believe that successive generations of scholars have dismantled what better connoisseurship once upheld. My own research has largely been among reproductions. My advantage is my sense of Rembrandt has not been hampered by scholarly opinion. I studied art and haved had a lifetime of practice in sculpture and drawing. Rembrandt has been and remains chief among my household gods. I find it difficult to understand how the opinion of theoreticians should trump irrefutable evidence -  indefinitely.
Modern scholarship finds it difficult to believe Rembrandt could have gained anything from his study of Roman portraiture. He owned 30 Roman busts and filled two books with drawings of them, which must be a measure of his interest in Roman portraits. I believe his preference for truth to nature over idealised beauty and his use of three-dimensional geometry as a draftsman is due to his understanding of Roman geometric form; a clear preference over Greek idealization.
There are a number of other failures of recent scholarship which I will outline. But the last sentence of the paragraph above is the essence of my struggle with Rembrandt scholars since 1974. (I have recently experienced precisely the same disdain of evidence from archaeologists over a series of discoveries in Greek and Roman art; the new evidence is centred on The Elgin Marbles, I agree with Richard Payne Knight that the majority and the best are Roman restorations.)
Other misunderstanding in recent Rembrandt scholarship – G. Schwartz finds Rembrandt lacking in humour. But Baldinucci describes him “as first rate joker who laughed at everybody” I am amused considerably by some of his drawings – Rembrandt laughs at everybody in a final self-portrait.
More seriously, scholars want great masters to evolve consistently; and as Rembrandt rarely signed or dated his drawings they have had a field-day of arranging his drawings in a neat order that is absurdly mistaken (see YouTube of The Dismissal of Hagar, where we see that the changes in Rembrandt’s style are produced not by Rembrandt’s maturing but by his changing stimulus from reality to a mirror image). Rembrandt was once famous for his responsiveness, he is the least consistent artist I know; partly because of the wide variety of his responses and partly because he was responsible as a teacher – he believed that “one should follow only nature, anything else was worthless in his eyes” and he is the only artist I know who was prepared to demonstrate “worthlessness” in his own drawings when he could not follow nature (see YouTube “Isaac Refusing to Bless Esau” or any of his flying angels).
In his paintings one can see that he developed towards a looser style in the 1650s; the same is probably true of his drawings but the present system of dating by style is clearly wildly mistaken. I have shown evidence for a considerable loss in quality in those drawings made from mirror images (YouTube North Holland dress and “The Dismissal of Hagar”). This loss is almost certainly due to the lesser quality of the stimulus from a 17C. mirror. Plate glass was invented after Rembrandt’s death. His larger mirrors must have been made of either polished metal or composite mirrors made of small pieces mounted together, obviously a less precise image than life direct. I have suggested a spectrum of quality – the best -  from a stable stimulus: from life in the studio – a lesser quality from less stable life in the street – lesser still from mirror images and finally the least successful, when Rembrandt is obliged to construct or work from memory/imagination. These characteristics can be observed in action throughout Rembrandt’s life.
Contrary to the above idea that Rembrandt drew best from a stable stimulus – there are two feeble drawings from Roman busts which are included in Benesch’s catalogue but presumably excluded by Rembrandt from the two scrapbooks mentioned in his inventory, which sadly have been lost. Nonetheless, I would stick with my spectrum in a general way, writing off those two as examples of Rembrandt’s variability. A few of his drawings are truly great others much less so. Alas many of the greats have been dismissed by modern scholarship.
Fortunately the etchings are often dated on the plates, they are therefore a reliable source for examining Rembrandt’s variability. They speak  clearly of the same wide spectrum from infinitely painstaking, for instance in the shell of 1652, to remarkably crude in some of the earlier compositions, or fairly slapdash when drawing a golfer from life. My analysis of The Lion Hunt etchhings on YouTube makes a clear demonstration of the above.
We have to conclude from the etchings that Rembrandt was unreliable throughout his life. My own rule is – if there is any part of a work that could only have been drawn by Rembrandt then it is by Rembrandt; regardless of how awful the rest might be. For instance I defended “The Finding of Moses” drawing (YouTube) from Kenneth Clark’s de-attribution although I agree with his criticism; because this is a drawing about precarious balance that could only have been held by the model for limited time; it does not have Rembrandt’s usual sense of form. I think my comparison with the Virgin Mary with basket B     could confirm my interpretation with forensic tests showing both are done with the same pen and ink.
Further examples of Rembrandt’s drawings without visual stimulus – a drawing of Philemon and Baucis with Jupiter B     - a drawing so feeble it would never have been accepted as by Rembrandt without the little note he added explaining what it represented. He must have been reading his Ovid and thought the subject could make a painting but no models were available so he did his best without them. He did make a very different and successful painting of it afterwards. These examples should make it obvious Rembrandt needed visual stimulus to produce of his best either as a painter or as a draftsman; His student Hoogstratten advises “ take one or two of your fellow students and act out the scene, some of the greatest masters did the same”.
One last example the drawing of Job and his Comforters which experts believe is Rembrandt correcting a student drawing. Such an interpretations suggest that Rembrandt was a brutally destructive  teacher because he has ruined what was an excellent drawing. I describe it instead (on YouTube) as Rembrandt correcting Rembrandt, or more accurately Rembrandt trying a new interpretation over his own excellent drawing. The experts are unable to distinguish between the master and his students it would seem, I find no difficulty, Rembrandt was in an entirely different class. The best of his students were merely adequate.
One of the enduring lessons students can learn from Rembrandt is that he was unself-censoring, entirely self-accepting no matter what the outcome. He could not have foreseen the kind of scrutiny he gets in the analysis of his “Descent from the Cross” in The National Gallery’s “Art in the Making, Rembrandt” but there is not a hint of the hubris there that one finds in Michelangelo, for instance.
I have made a case for a new, more generous catalogue of Rembrandt’s drawings based on a new interpretation of his character as an artist. If you agree please signal your aproval below and ask for action from the scholars. Rembrandt was once the role model for art students.

The one big difference between my interpretation of Rembrandt’s character as an artist and the characterisation of modern scholars is that I see him as an observer and they insist that he was an imaginative inventor. Benesch writing in “Rembrandt Selected Drawings” (1947)   suggested that Rembrandt drew his biblical subjects from an “inner vision…as if he seen them in reality”. Whereas Houbraken (167 ) Rembrandt’s contemporary writes exactly the opposite he said Rembrandt “would not attempt a single brush stroke without living model before his eyes” and I have found massive evidence in the drawings themselves that 98% agrees with Houbraken. In fact all Rembrandt’s contemporaries say much same.

Benesch  was writing in the 1947 but today’s scholars seem in complete agreement inasmuch as they have stuck with his method of dating by style and savagely prune those drawings that don’t fit in with his ideas; where I have proved over and over again that his ideas were founded on the erroneous assumptions oft repeated in his “Selected Drawings” of Rembrandt’s imagination. I gave ample evidence of this in my article “Rembrandt’s Use of Models and Mirrors” (Burlington February 77) and have added to that evidence with many videos on YouTube; nonetheless, the evidence has been neglected by the scholars.

My evidence backs up Rembrandt’s contemporaries who all described the character I have recovered through his works. My version of Rembrandt would expand the catalogue of drawings, perhaps 30% over Benesch’s “Complete Drawings” – Benesch believed in about 1500 of them. While P. Schatborn, once of The Rijksmuseum, more recently claims to believe in only 500 drawings by Rembrandt (in the Getty catalogue “Rembrandt and his Pupils”). I believe in approximately 2200 and  am scandalised by Schatborn’s judgments.

Though I have not had the lifetime of experience among the originals that Schatborn has enjoyed, I believe that successive generations of scholars have dismantled what better connoisseurship once upheld. My own research has largely been among reproductions. My advantage is my sense of Rembrandt has not been hampered by scholarly opinion. I studied art and have had a lifetime of practice in sculpture and drawing. Rembrandt has been and remains chief among my household gods. I find it difficult to understand how the opinion of theoreticians should trump irrefutable evidence -  indefinitely.

Modern scholarship finds it difficult to believe Rembrandt could have gained anything from his study of Roman portraiture. He owned 30 Roman busts and filled two books with drawings of them, which must be a measure of his interest in Roman portraits. I believe his preference for truth to nature over idealised beauty and his use of three-dimensional geometry as a draftsman is due to his understanding of Roman geometric form; a clear preference over Greek idealisation.

There are a number of other failures of recent scholarship which I will outline. But the last sentence of the paragraph above is the essence of my struggle with Rembrandt scholars since 1974. (I have recently experienced precisely the same disdain of evidence from archaeologists over a series of discoveries in Greek and Roman art; the new evidence is centred on The Elgin Marbles, I agree with Richard Payne Knight that the majority and the best are Roman restorations.)

Other misunderstanding in recent Rembrandt scholarship – G. Schwartz finds Rembrandt lacking in humour. But Baldinucci describes him “as first rate joker who laughed at everybody” I am amused considerably by some of his drawings – Rembrandt laughs at everybody in a final self-portrait.

More seriously, scholars want great masters to evolve consistently; and as Rembrandt rarely signed or dated his drawings they have had a field-day of arranging his drawings in a neat order that is absurdly mistaken (see YouTube of The Dismissal of Hagar, where we see that the changes in Rembrandt’s style are produced not by Rembrandt’s maturing but by his changing stimulus from reality to a mirror image). Rembrandt was once famous for his responsiveness, he is the least consistent artist I know; partly because of the wide variety of his responses and partly because he was responsible as a teacher – he believed that “one should follow only nature, anything else was worthless in his eyes” and he is the only artist I know who was prepared to demonstrate “worthlessness” in his own drawings when he could not follow nature (see YouTube “Isaac Refusing to Bless Esau” or any of his flying angels).

In his paintings one can see that he developed towards a looser style in the 1650s; the same is probably true of his drawings but the present system of dating by style is clearly wildly mistaken. I have shown evidence for a considerable loss in quality in those drawings made from mirror images (YouTube North Holland dress and “The Dismissal of Hagar”). This loss is almost certainly due to the lesser quality of the stimulus from a 17C. mirror. Plate glass was invented after Rembrandt’s death. His larger mirrors must have been made of either polished metal or composite mirrors made of small pieces mounted together, obviously a less precise image than life direct. I have suggested a spectrum of quality – the best -  from a stable stimulus: from life in the studio – a lesser quality from less stable life in the street – lesser still from mirror images and finally the least successful, when Rembrandt is obliged to construct or work from memory/imagination. These characteristics can be observed in action throughout Rembrandt’s life.

Contrary to the above idea that Rembrandt drew best from a stable stimulus – there are two feeble drawings from Roman busts which are included in Benesch’s catalogue but presumably excluded by Rembrandt from the two scrapbooks mentioned in his inventory, which sadly have been lost. Nonetheless, I would stick with my spectrum in a general way, writing off those two as examples of Rembrandt’s variability. A few of his drawings are truly great others much less so. Alas many of the greats have been dismissed by modern scholarship.

Fortunately the etchings are often dated on the plates, they are therefore a reliable source for examining Rembrandt’s variability. They speak  clearly of the same wide spectrum from infinitely painstaking, for instance in the shell of 1652, to remarkably crude in some of the earlier compositions, or fairly slapdash when drawing a golfer from life. My analysis of The Lion Hunt etchings on YouTube makes a clear demonstration of the above.

We have to conclude from the etchings that Rembrandt was unreliable throughout his life. My own rule is – if there is any part of a work that could only have been drawn by Rembrandt then it is by Rembrandt; regardless of how awful the rest might be. For instance I defended “The Finding of Moses” drawing (YouTube) from Kenneth Clark’s de-attribution although I agree with his criticism; because this is a drawing about precarious balance that could only have been held by the model for limited time; it does not have Rembrandt’s usual sense of form. I think my comparison with the Virgin Mary with basket B     could confirm my interpretation with forensic tests showing both are done with the same pen and ink.

Further examples of Rembrandt’s drawings without visual stimulus – a drawing of Philemon and Baucis with Jupiter B     - a drawing so feeble it would never have been accepted as by Rembrandt without the little note he added explaining what it represented. He must have been reading his Ovid and thought the subject could make a painting but no models were available so he did his best without them. He did make a very different and successful painting of it afterwards. These examples should make it obvious Rembrandt needed visual stimulus to produce of his best either as a painter or as a draftsman; His student Hoogstratten advises “ take one or two of your fellow students and act out the scene, some of the greatest masters did the same”.

One last example the drawing of Job and his Comforters which experts believe is Rembrandt correcting a student drawing. Such an interpretations suggest that Rembrandt was a brutally destructive  teacher because he has ruined what was an excellent drawing. I describe it instead (on YouTube) as Rembrandt correcting Rembrandt, or more accurately Rembrandt trying a new interpretation over his own excellent drawing. The experts are unable to distinguish between the master and his students it would seem, I find no difficulty, Rembrandt was in an entirely different class. The best of his students were merely adequate.

One of the enduring lessons students can learn from Rembrandt is that he was unself-censoring, entirely self-accepting no matter what the outcome. He could not have foreseen the kind of scrutiny he gets in the analysis of his “Descent from the Cross” in The National Gallery’s “Art in the Making, Rembrandt” but there is not a hint of the hubris there that one finds in Michelangelo, for instance.

I have made a case for a new, more generous catalogue of Rembrandt’s drawings based on a new interpretation of his character as an artist. If you agree please signal your approval below and ask for action from the scholars. Rembrandt was once the role model for art students.

Oct 222015

To become a Rembrandt scholar you need to pass out top of a prestigious course in art history. They are the crème della crème; but they are gravely mistaken about Rembrandt and resist correction no matter what the evidence for revision. This article is designed to convince you they need to be replaced. They will not renew themselves.

They have in fact stood Rembrandt on his head. Reversing his significance of perhaps the world’s most perceptive observer. They seek to persuade us that he worked largely from imagination. I believe that I have demonstrated this to be a fundamental mistake, yet they will not budge. As a simple example see my “Isaac Refusing to Bless Esau” on YouTube. I expect you will agree with me that Rembrandt was at his best as an observer.

Esau and Isaac

Click to play video

This disagreement as to whether Rembrandt relied on observation or invention is a fundamental error, which invalidates large areas of recent scholarship. An error from which Rembrandt scholarship is suffering and has suffer since 1922 at when this important drawing was dismissed – important because it shows us Rembrandt’s strengths and weaknesses. Because I accept the weakness I can believe in over 2,000 drawings by Rembrandt but the scholars’ refusal leads them to accept only 500! His position as a culture hero has fallen proportionately in my life time.

I find it very easy to win the observation argument, so I well understand why the scholars refuse to debate the point in public. Choosing instead to undermine my examples in their private world of scholarly publications so they can continue with their folly undisturbed. I have described the scholarship of Rembrandt drawings as “an unmitigated disgrace” for the following reasons:-

1. My paradigm changing discovery of Rembrandt’s Use of Models and Mirrors in 1974 has been neglected. These findings were published in the Burlington under that title in Feb.1977 (two eminent art historians, Prof. Sir Ernst Gombrich and Dr J. Montagu were thanked for their help in presenting my findings in that article). A similar article was published in Rembrandthuiskroniek vol.1 1978. In both I believe I proved, beyond reasonable doubt, that Rembrandt used groups of live models for himself and his students to work from. This idea is anyway corroborated by contemporaries of Rembrandt; what was all that theatrical wardrobe for if not to produce his groups? (an extensive wardrobe and props is seen in the inventory of his belongings taken in 1656.)
2.Recent Rembrandt scholarship has neglected the historical record, indeed reversed the known facts.
3. Over a period of 90 years they have apparently unanimously accepted this reversal, neglecting an abundance of evidence that should have warned them off. They do this in order to maintain their mistaken ideas of Rembrandt’s development as a draughtsman and his relationship with the school production; they have  substituted theoretical iconography where practical observation explains the school works better. These sins have suffocated the educational atmosphere of art history. The Rembrandt catastrophe could not have happen without unquestioning acceptance of the professor’s dictate.
4. The scholars refuse to discuss and continue with the destruction of Rembrandt in the face of overwhelming evidence of their folly – or worse.
5. As a sculptor of 60 years experience, I find their judgments often outrageous.

Sep 242015

inventory1

Aug 212015

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Aug 192015

BURLINGTON

Enlargement of newspaper column

Aug 192015

GOWING

Mar 182015

It is the centenary year of the publication of Heindrich Wolfflin’s “The Principles of Art History” often described as epoch-making. It is worth trying to assess to what extent it is responsible for the most devastating decline in artistic standards ever recorded. I would suggest – to a very great extent. I would be interested to know what others feel. Read more

By 1915 revolutions in art were well underway starting with the Impressionists, then more violently with the Post Impressionists and the Fauves. By 1915 Cubism had come and nearly gone. So Wolfflin was not the leader but he was the leader of the critics trying to catch up with revolutionaries.

In his Preface he writes “The Principles arose from the need of establishing on a firmer basis the classifications of art history – not the judgment of value – there is no question of that here”. Nonetheless, his choice of examples and the way he writes about them cannot hide from us the fact that he was no connoisseur himself.

His first example: Durer’s preparatory drawing for Eve, I would probably place as number one among the worst drawings genuinely attributed to an old master. The pose is in itself feeble and expresses nothing of her desire. But it is in the limbs that qualifies his drawing as first in my category. There are no bones in either arm. The one that dangles the apple is particularly disgusting, a mere string of sausages. The leg that bears weight passes muster, no more; from the knee done the other leg looks like the work of a diligent beginner. Yet Wolfflin seems carried away by the beauty of it all. “each single line seems to know that it is beautiful and combines beautifully with its mates.” How could anyone take such a critic seriously? Yet the book is in it’s 6th edition and is ‘a must’ for all students of art history.

Durer’s horrid drawing is compared with one of Rembrandt’ most appealing, individualized, female nudes – Wolfflin writes “Durer is based on tactile, Rembrandt on visual values.” I have made a homage to the Rembrandt in sculpture. I would not dream of such a homage to the Durer, I would be left with a cripple.

Many complain of the loss of connoisseurship while others despise the very idea of it. Surely “The Principles” have delivered the death blow to the whole idea of discerning quality in art. Yet to artists of the past, quality of observation is all that truly matters. Instead of comparing works of art with the phenomena they represent, critics since Wolfflin look at lines as if they have a more important, aesthetic quality in themselves, that they alone can discern.

By 1922 Otto Benesch had embarked upon his devastation of Rembrandt’s drawings, claiming that he could date Rembrandt’s drawings by style “to within a year or two, three at most”! If drawings failed to comply with his pigeon-holes they are discarded. This destructive policy continues under Benesch’s followers at an accelerated rate today. We are left with less than 50% of Rembrandt’s drawings. We have left the fate of Rembrandt, the world’s foremost observer of humankind, in incompetent hands. Are our critics of modern art any better? No wonder the Art World is in turmoil.

Nov 292014

Was Rembrandt reliable? It is worth asking this question because scholars have assumed that Rembrandt was by nature consistent. Otto Benesch, the cataloguer of his drawings claimed that he could recognise the date of Rembrandt’s drawings “to within one or two years, three at most”. If Benesch was right, Rembrandt must have been consistent to a very rare degree. I find him unreliable, I agree with Gary Schwartz “the study of Rembrandt has much to gain from the serious consideration of the negative criticisms voiced by his contemporaries.” and they do not find Rembrandt at all reliable or consistent. Benesch’s error is pure wish-fulfilment that has alas, resounded with his heirs and followers.

By his study of the documents Schwartz brings into question many aspects of Rembrandt’s character that suggest his untrustworthiness. He was struck out of his sister’s will and his wife’s will, he was never asked to be godfather to a child, “he himself sabotaged his career” says Schwartz – I take all that on board. I think you will find below good reason to view Rembrandt’s behaviour as highly erratic.

Supreme self-confidence does not sit well on the shoulders of an artist. Though his confidence in his own judgement contributed to his ability to push art in the direction of truth before conventional beauty; it has earned him everlasting fame for very good reason but it caused no end of trouble in his life-time.

Von Sandrart tells us that Rembrandt “had no understanding of the importance of social rank…. it is certain that had he been able to keep on good terms with everyone and look after his business properly” he would have made a fortune. Baldinucci writes that “not even the foremost monarch on earth could gain an audience” but would be sent away until Rembrandt had finished his work. The Prince of Orange had to wait fourteen years for the last of his Passion series. The painting arrived still wet and the Prince paid only half the asking price. The Sicilian nobleman for whom Rembrandt painted several portraits sent back two complaining that he had bought work from Italy’s most famous painters and never paid so high a price nor received work so ill completed (his portrait of Alexander the Great was sown together from four pieces of canvas).

Rembrandt’s dealings with commoners took a similar pattern. His quarrels with his first mistress and with Saskia’s family after her death show us a man who was deeply lacking in diplomacy to say the least. There are stories of him painting the corpse of his dead monkey into a commissioned family portrait and keeping the painting rather than removing this nasty, unwanted addition. There are constant complaints from his contemporaries such as “he did not finish his paintings properly – it is rare to find in Rembrandt a well painted hand – his female nudes were such pitiful things that they are hardly worth mentioning” etc. Rembrandt answered these criticisms with “a picture is finished when the artist has expressed his intentions in it”. It is this clarity about his intentions and their revolutionary nature that makes Rembrandt such an important example to artists. His female nudes are not idealized as was expected at that time. They were shockingly true to life.

All this evidence needs airing. On occasion I think Schwartz has taken an over-negative view of the evidence. For instance he says of Rembrandt’s relations with his students “the few stories that have found their way into the sources are not heart-warming at all.” He also finds Rembrandt humourless and miserly. Houbraken tells stories which suggests quite the opposite to me: Rembrandt comes upon a scene where his students are eavesdropping on another student and his model locked together in the student’s room. He overhears him say “here we are naked like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden” at this point Rembrandt bangs on the door and shouts “Because you are aware of your nakedness you must come out of the garden” and then chased them down the stairs with his stick, I guess as theatre, because “they scarcely had time to dress as they fled”. On other occasions students painted coins on the floor in order to see him stoop to pick them up. This suggests to Schwartz that Rembrandt was over attached to his money. To me It confirms that he had a playful relationship with his students some of whom stayed with him for many years though he charged twice as much for an apprenticeship as his rivals. There are many references to Rembrandt’s generosity in lending objects from his theatrical wardrobe to painters who needed them, in paying over the odds for works by his contemporaries to boost their value and paying extravagantly for works of art generally. When he had money he certainly threw it about. His great house proved much more than he could afford but that was as much bad luck as bad judgement; he lived through a severe recession.

Rembrandt changed the course of art. He seemed so completely immune to criticism that it might help us to understand him better to take these aspects of his character into consideration. If scholars realized they were dealing with a man who exhibits many of the symptoms of Bipolar behaviour, they might treat him more kindly and abandon their efforts to normalize him. They want him to be consistent, he was not; and we cannot understand him unless we take his inconsistencies into account. Some were psychological and some were physical. The difference between Rembrandt’s drawing direct from life and when he relied upon a dim reflection in a polished metal surface, or even worse when he relies on imagination, is very obvious but at present overlooked by the experts. (for examples, see my ebook www.nigelkonstam.com)

These stories and complaints should surely alert us to the fact that Rembrandt, great painter as he is, was not an entirely reasonable human being. As George Bernard Shaw noted – “The reasonable man adapts….All progress depends on the unreasonable man”

I am no psychologist I would like to hear what professionals thinks of this evidence. Rembrandt’s behaviour, his output, his charisma and his supreme self-confidence all seem to me to point to manic-depression.

Oct 022014

Prof. Van der Wetering, recently leader of the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) enthusiastically told The Guardian (May 24th’14) that the deattribution of “Old Man sitting in an armchair in the National Gallery was “a vast mistake…it is of wonderful quality and revolutionary in a sense…a very important painting”. As one who had written to the RRP in 1988 about this very painting asking if I could come to Amsterdam or preferably invite them to my collection of Rembrandt maquettes with mirrors in Tuscany to dissuade them from this sacrilege, I was all agog. In 1988 they had refused my offer twice; Prof. Van der Wetering was a member then.

What had produced this Pauline conversion? I have just read his article in the June Burlington and have to admit myself somewhat disappointed. The same pointless and misleading art historical nonsense about style, fitting this painting neatly into a pigeonhole for 1652. If you can believe it, one of the reasons for the deattribution in the first place was that the hands of the Old Man do not match.

While the Old Man’s right hand on which he leans is fairly standard, his left hand rests on the arm of a chair, and is painted with a first-time breadth and accuracy that takes ones breath away. I and many painters of my generation regarded it as the holy grail of painting along with “The Wading Woman” (Hendrickje in1654) also in the National Gallery. That hand was so felt, it had  that loss of muscle-tone, the bones fell about the chair arm as only such an old hand could do. It could not have been further from an idealized hand by Van Dyck for example. No wonder he was criticized “ it is rare to find in Rembrandt a beautifully painted hand” (Houbraken). This is a masterpiece of observation and empathy.

The X ray (seen in the Burlington) shows that the initial sketch needed but the slightest touches to adjust the top of the hand to balance it perfectly on the knob of the chair. (If Auerbach had achieved such fluency he would be dancing on cloud 9.)

Well, Van der Wetering uses the unmatched hands of the Old Man to compare with the unmatched hands of “The Girl Sitting in a Window” in Stockholm, which happens to have been painted in 1651. Such bathos! Of course her hands do not match. One is tucked so deep under her chin that what we see is her wrist not her hand. The other under her elbow, could well be sited as a badly painted hand by Rembrandt.

I no longer look forward to Van der Wetering’s completion of the RRP’s promised 6 volumes. Nonetheless I salute his courage in changing his mind, thereby undermining confidence in his and the RRP’s work. In fact many years after my initial invitation he came to me with a group of students for a whole day of instruction on the art of drawing and Rembrandt. At the time (perhaps 2008) I thought nothing had penetrated.

Nigel Konstam 24 8 14

Jul 212014

May I congratulate Prof.Van der Wetering on recognizing Rembrandt’s prime quality, that of responsiveness, which we see wonderfully displayed in “The Old Man Sitting on a Chair” and which he has finally allowed to be considered “a very important painting” and by Rembrandt.

I have put on my blog www.nigelkonstam.com

a letter I wrote to the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) in 1988 offering to visit them in Amsterdam in order to discuss the damage they were inflicting on our culture, specifically a  letter to the Guardian in response to their article “Call to bring Old Man out of the Shadows” 24 May ‘14 ioning “The Old Man Sitting in a Chair”. I was refused once (by Dr. Bruyn) but was not satisfied so got a second refusal “on behalf of all my colleagues” dated March 30th 1988. (Prof. Van der Wetering was a colleague.)

He and his colleagues have been trying to impose consistency on an artist who artists value for his responsiveness: almost the opposite to consistency. The RRP de-attributed this important painting and in so doing may be held partially responsible for the decline of modern, observed painting since.

May we dare hope that Prof Van der Wetering’s U turn marks the beginning of a return to realism in Rembrandt studies. I have ample evidence for the re-attribution of nearly 1000 drawings now distributed among his students. The principles on which I work can be found in my e-book on Rembrandt on the same website or in my article ”Rembrandt’s Use of Models and Mirrors” Burlington Feb. 1977.

Nigel Konstam 4. 7. 14