Imagens da página

untold, and it has been reserved for students of our own generation, or—we say it with regret as we recall the memory of Vosmaer, Charles Blanc, and others—of the generation now passing away, to place the true story before their readers. The most important contribution to the new era in Rembrandt literature is undoubtedly that of Vosmaer, whose revised edition, “Rembrandt, sa Vie et ses CEuvres,’ appeared in 1877. Modern critics, and we do not say it in any disrespect, are, in their appreciation of present knowledge, too often forgetful, perhaps it may be unconscious, of the laborious steps by which it has been attained, and so they fail to recognize the amount of patient research and of careful investigation which has been required to establish what are now regarded as simple, almost self-evident facts. We cannot say this of the author of the first volume on our list, M. Emile Michel; he has thrown himself heartily into his subject, and while he has not hesitated to avail himself of all the information which Vosmaer and his immediate predecessors have afforded, supplementing it with the fruitful results of still more recent investigations, he has not forgotten to acknowledge to its fullest extent the assistance he has received. After a grateful recognition of the labours of Eduard Kolloff, to whom the inauguration of a more exact and learned criticism is due, and an appreciative tribute to the careful and untiring researches of Bürger, he adds—

“The task Bürger had set himself to accomplish was destined to be carried out by a Dutchman, and Vosmaer showed himself equal to the lofty work his patriotism had suggested, by the pious care he brought to bear upon it, and by his profound study of his subject in all its ramifications. To his skilful grouping of facts already ascertained, he added the sum of his own discoveries. His perfect knowledge of Dutch literature enabled him to paint the artist among his actual surroundings, and to show how far Rembrandt had been inspired by these, how far by the originality of his genius.'

And, in reference to the advantages afforded him by the later investigations of Messrs. Bode, Bredius, De Roever, and others, M. Michel writes—

“In grateful recognition of all I owe to their friendly help, I here tender my thanks . . . If I have been enabled to supply the deficiencies of Vosmaer, and to trace more clearly than he has done the close union between Rembrandt's life and art, my success is due to them . . . To their zeal and discoveries I owe the information which must give a certain value to my book.’

So far as Rembrandt's personal history is concerned, we cannot but think that the final word has now been uttered. It - 1S,

[ocr errors]

is, of course, possible that the discovery of unexpected memoirs
or archives may reveal some further details; it would, however,
be difficult to imagine, with M. Michel's book before us, that
anything can have been left unsaid; but there is, and long will
be, room for controversy as to the authenticity of examples
of drawing, etching, and painting, hitherto attributed to his
hand, and bearing, in many instances, what has been regarded
as Rembrandt's well-recognized signature. As to these so
many questions have already been raised, so many conflicting
opinions have been expressed, that it is impossible at present
to anticipate any final decision. With regard to the draw-
ings, we are convinced that no small proportion of those which
have been assigned to the master are somewhat more than
questionable. We have ourselves met with several in public
collections, and have seen a still larger number in private hands,
which we should unhesitatingly reject; in some of them we
have even detected modern watermarks in the paper. Of the
etchings we will speak later on. As to the paintings, Dr. Bode,
to whose authority connoisseurs would willingly defer, and
who has already published the results of his repeated examina-
tion of the larger number of Rembrandt's pictures preserved in
public or in private galleries," is now, we are informed, engaged
upon a much more extensive and important work. It is a
carefully descriptive Catalogue, accompanied by photogravure
reproductions of every known and veritable painting by the
master's hand, arranged, so far as is possible, in their chrono-
logical order, and supplemented by transcripts of documents,
registers, &c., which in any way relate to the works themselves
or to the period of their execution. Until Dr. Bode's work
appears, it would be well to reserve expression of opinion.
Meanwhile so-called “Rembrandts' exist, and from time to
time appear in exhibitions and sale-rooms, which either bear no
satisfactory evidence of originality, or are copies or adaptations
of recognized works, perhaps with unimportant variations, but
revealing to the practised observation of the connoisseur unmis-
takable inferiority in colour or execution.
We are unwilling to say anything which would even appear
to detract from the true merit of M. Michel’s “Rembrandt.” "We
realize, as we read it, that it represents the work of one who
has spared neither time nor labour in its preparation. We
sympathize with his claim that he

'lived for several years with Rembrandt, surrounded by reproductions of his pictures, drawings, and etchings, and by documents bear

[merged small][ocr errors]

ing on his history, my mind all the while intently fixed on the facts of his life, and the achievements of his genius. . . . I saw the heterogeneous threads of information weave themselves gradually into the fabric of a life—the life of Rembrandt, with its small events and large passions, its stormy aspirations, its glorious masterpieces, marking the successive epochs of a troubled existence.’

But it is unfortunately the case that, for purposes of study, the book he has produced has more than one serious defect. Foremost among these is the insufficiency of the index, which gives references only to the occurrence of proper names, and is even thus incomplete. Again, the catalogues of the pictures, the etchings and the drawings, at the end of the second volume (we have before us the English edition), give no references to the mention of them in the text, and are otherwise exceedingly inadequate. Thus of pictures in English hands only 126 are recorded—we are assured that there are at least twice as many—to 48 of these no dimensions are given, neither are we told whether they are on panel or on canvas, yet fully one-fourth have appeared in past years in Burlington House at the Old Masters Exhibitions. It may be further remarked that, while the work is rich in reproductions, the lists of full-page and text illustrations are arranged only in the order in which they occur in the volume. We may give an example of the inconvenience, to use no stronger term, which this arrangement involves. In chapter iii. of volume i. (English edition), the author refers to Rembrandt's portraits of his mother, and upon one page mentions six of the etched portraits, of which he has given reproductions. It would of course be an advantage to the reader to compare these reproductions. They do not, however, accompany the text, but are introduced in a haphazard kind of way at irregular intervals, from pages 1 to 164, and their position can only be discovered by the somewhat tedious process of searching through the lists in the first pages of the volume of some 170 illustrations, not arranged in alphabetical, and only partially in chronological, order. We also think it an error of judgment that so many, nineteen or twenty, of the full-page illustrations with which M. Michel has enriched his book, should, in the English edition, have been omitted. The three or four new ones introduced in their stead, although among them is one of the finest of the master's portraits of himself, are, in our opinion, insufficient compensation, Such oversights and omissions, which may in a future edition * corrected, do not however detract from the real merit of M. Michel's work, and, as we have already acknowledged, we

believe that, thanks to his appreciation and unwearying o there

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

there is now before us all the information respecting Rem-
brandt's life and work which is at present attainable. Although
we find ourselves at issue with M. Michel in some of his con-
clusions—such occasional divergence is the privilege of the
reviewer—yet, with regard to his volumes as a whole, we are
more than satisfied, and may congratulate ourselves, as well as
the author, on the publication of a work which will be heartily
welcomed by all who desire to acquaint themselves with the life
and art of Rembrandt.
It would be impossible in the short limits of a Review, to
follow out the whole history of Rembrandt's life, as it is now
related by his biographers. From existing records we know
him to have been the fifth son of Harman Gerritszoon van
Rijn and Neeltje Willemsdr. van Zuytbrouck, respectable
well-to-do people of the burgher-class, resident in Leyden,
Harman being part owner of a mill, and possessed of several
houses and gardens in its vicinity. The mill—that “enchanted
den of darkness, so poetically described by Fuseli, “where,
magician-like, he brooded over half-seen forms, and his
imagination framed strange spells out of elemental light and
shade’—was not, as once supposed, the scene of Rembrandt's
birth and youthful days. His parents occupied a more prosaic
home, a comfortable house in the Weddesteeg (the Water-lane),
an approach to the ‘White-gate, one of the entrances to the city.
We may omit all discussion as to the exact year of his birth,
only expressing our conclusion that the date is, as Vosmaer and
Middleton have decided, 1607. Orlers tells us that his father
sent him early to school to be instructed in the Latin tongue, and
so prepare himself for the Academy of Leyden, “that when he
came of age he might serve the City and the Republic with his
knowledge.' We learn, too, of his entering, in his twelfth year,
the studio of Swanenburch, a painter of some reputation in
Leyden, and, among after-events of his personal history, of his
removal to Amsterdam in 1630, at first renting an apartment in
the Bloemgracht, thrice changing his residence, and, after his
mother's death in 1640, of his purchasing a larger house in the
Joden-Breedstraat, where for sixteen years he made his home.
In 1634 he married Saskia van Uylenburgh, not a vulgar
Peasant girl as earlier biographers have asserted, but the orphan
daughter of a Frisian lawyer of good social position and
considerable wealth. Their married life, though short—for
Saskia died in 1642—seems to have been a very happy one.
Of the portraits and studies of his charming wife we shall
speak later on ; there is one touching peculiarity which dis-
tinguishes them, as also the studies and portraits of himself,
2 B 2 executed


executed during their brief married life. She is always gaily, in some instances richly, dressed, while his own figure is clothed in picturesque garb with velvet hat and drooping feather, as if too joyous and contented to recognize a care. Not until six years after her death does his own portrait again appear, and then he represents himself in plain burgher dress with high narrow-brimmed hat. The poetry of his life was gone. The world had gone hard with him ; always generous, even reckless in his expenditure, he was already heavily in debt. At his wife's death trustees had to interfere to save the share of her property which their only surviving child Titus should inherit; and in the end matters reached such a crisis that his whole effects were seized. So complete was his ruin that the inventory, still preserved, of the contents of his house, to be submitted for sale for the benefit of his creditors, includes, with other works of Art, not only a rich collection of pictures, of drawings, of prints, both by his own and by the hand of various Italian and other masters, of statuary and armour, but even the chairs and cupboards in the kitchen, and ‘Linen—then at the washerwoman's' (Lijnwaet, 't welck geseyt op de bleeck te zijn). For the incidents of his later life, so far as they are known—of his connection with Hendrickje, of his residence, as discovered by Vosmaer, in a house in the Rosengracht, and of the death of Titus—we must refer to M. Michel. In the ‘Doodboek' of the Wester Kerk in Amsterdam is found this entry: ‘Tuesday, 8th October, 1669. Rembrandt van Rijn, painter, of the Rosengracht opposite the Doolhof, leaving two children.’ We turn to the history of Rembrandt's Art. The facts as verified by numerous existing archives and other documents, and the presumable inferences now so carefully worked out, must ever have for us a special interest. Foremost among these is the extent to which, as Orlers expresses it, his “natural inclinations, which “always drew him on to the art of painting and designing,’ were influenced and directed, not only by the masters, under whose tuition he acquired the first principles of his art, but by his own observation of the pictures of others, his predecessors, at that time, and some of them still preserved in the Town-hall of Leyden; and with which the precocious boy, who before his twelfth year had been placed in a painter's studio, must have become familiar. Of these the most important would be “The Last Judgment, from the hand of the wellknown master, Lucas van Leyden. Though more than one critic has described this picture in a somewhat depreciatory tone, it is, although much injured by “restoration, an undoubtedly genuine work, manifesting, together with much originality of design,

« AnteriorContinuar »