Imagens da página

‘middle' time. We think there can hardly be an existing picture about which so much has been said or written, so many varying opinions have been entertained. Bürger, Vosmaer, De Vries, Bredius, Meyer, Louis Gonze, Durand, Greville, and others have entered into the discussion. Theories and facts respecting it have been contested, refuted, and established until there can now be little room for further controversy. The picture itself has had its vicissitudes. The title of ‘Night Watch, a name only invented in the latter part of the eighteenth century by the French, and afterwards adopted by the Dutch cataloguers, is a memorial of the neglect from which it suffered. Its shadows and its tone had been so deepened and blurred by soot and dirt, by rancid oil and varnish, that when Sir Joshua Reynolds wrote of it in 1781, its dulness and opacity caused him to question its originality. In an earlier time it suffered from mutilation, each side having been ruthlessly cut away to fit it into what some enlightened Amsterdam town councillors thought would be its suitable position in their hall. Further, its intention has been misunderstood, the scene it represents been a matter of dispute, and the presence of the two little girls a mystery. It is now “restored,’ not, alas, to its original dimensions, since no trace has been discovered of the slips which were cut away, but, relieved of its superstratum, the “Sortie of the Amsterdam Musketeers’ has become a sunlight scene, one of the noblest treasures of the Ryks Museum of Amsterdam. The third of these pictures, ‘The Meeting of the Syndics in the Cloth Hall, belongs to Rembrandt's later days, A.D. 1661. It represents a very simple and even prosaic scene. Five dignitaries of the Corporation are seated at a table, honest, respectable men, no doubt fully deserving the confidence of their fellow-citizens; their morning fully occupied in the verification of their accounts. They are clad in plainest and most formal costume, wearing flat puritanic collars and black broad-brimmed hats; behind stands an attendant with uncovered head. The rich scarlet table-cloth, and the yellowish tone of the wainscot in the background, alone relieve the somewhat monotonous colour. Suddenly interrupted, perhaps by the entry of some stranger or official, they are represented with heads raised, looking forward towards the spectator, while the light which comes from some window, high up on the left unrepresented in the picture, falls direct upon the faces, bringing the portraits—for that is the intention of the composition– into full and distinctive relief. “Never before,' says M. Michel, “had Rembrandt achieved such perfection, never again was he to repeat the triumph of that Supreme * moment

moment when all his natural gifts joined forces, with the vast experiences of a life devoted to his art, in such a crowning manifestation of his genius. Brilliant and poetical, his masterpiece was at the same time absolutely correct and unexceptionable. Criticism which still wrangles over the “Night Watch" is unanimous in its admiration of the Syndics. In it the colourist and the draughtsman, the simple and the subtle, the realist and the idealist alike, recognize one of the masterpieces of painting.’

We must add a few words about the etchings which form so important a part of Rembrandt's work, and with which, thanks to the numerous existing impressions, and the frequent copies and reproductions — there are one hundred or more in M. Michel's book—students are now generally familiar. Until comparatively recent years almost every print on which the name of Rembrandt was engraved, or which in any degree appeared to resemble Rembrandt's manner of execution, was unhesitatingly attributed to his hand. At the present time the tendency is very much the other way, and the somewhat uncompromising criticism to which they have been subjected has resulted in the rejection of no inconsiderable number. There are of course many of the prints, at one or other time ascribed to Rembrandt, as to the authenticity of which there need now be no difference of opinion; in some of these we recognize the distinctive or inferior work of scholars or of imitators, others again bear absolutely no resemblance to the handwork of Rembrandt, and offer no single evidence of authenticity beyond the insertion of the name. On the other hand we believe that many prints, especially of Rembrandt's earlier time, have been rejected on insufficient grounds. Our readers will realize how great is the divergence when we remind them that Bartsch, whose Catalogue appeared in 1797, accepts almost without misgiving 375 prints, while M. Emile Michel, whose volume has so recently been published, is not disposed to admit more than 270, and tells us that he regards the authenticity of some 40 of these as still open to discussion. With such a conclusion we are ourselves unable to agree, and we do not hesitate to express our opinion that many of those which M. Michel now rejects must ultimately be restored. There is another question, and an important one both for students and collectors, as to which we must also acknowledge that our conclusions do not accord with those entertained by M. Michel. It is as to the extent to which the variations to which the plates were subjected, producing successive and more or less divergent impressions, constituting what are described as ‘states, were by the hand of

Rembrandt. M. Michel thus expresses himself:- T

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

“To Rembrandt one of the charms of etching was that it admits of corrections. A severe critic of his own plates, he would lay them aside altogether if they fell below his expectations, or would return to them again and again, never conceiving of them as finished; as with several of his pictures, he overloaded too many by continual retouching. But when he held his hand at the right moment, or worked out an idea methodically, he produced masterpieces of extraordinary originality. The successive retouches, when judiciously applied, gave prodigious flexibility and diversity of effect.’

Our own contention is that—except for purposes of correction, to remove some evident error, repair some omission, or affix a signature and date—Rembrandt rarely re-touched his plates; that, generally speaking, the earliest ‘states,' seldom more than two or three, were in the nature of “trial proofs, of course by Rembrandt's own hand, and in nearly every case we can decide which he regarded as his finished plate. The further alterations, corrections, and additions belong, as a general rule, to a later time; they were the work of another hand to restore the worn plate or perhaps conceal some injury from which it had suffered, or introduce some variation to suit the idea of the engraver who desired to place impressions in the market. We take, for example, the portrait of Abraham Fransz. The first state, of which only one impression is known, has an evident error in the design; the second and third show corrections; the fourth is the finished impression. After this we do not suppose that Rembrandt ever touched the plate; the later states showing re-work and variations by inferior and unskilled hands. Another example, the ‘Portrait of Jan Lutma,’ exists in four if not five states, though two only have been catalogued. The window in the background, &c., and the formally engraved inscription, “Joannes Lutma Aurifex natus Groningae, which distinguish the second state, are not by the hand which executed the portrait, but are probably, as Middleton suggests, by the younger Lutma. A hundred years later the plate came into the possession of Basan, and was further re-worked ; and if the reproduction in the English edition of M. Michel is accurately rendered, a still more recent state may be distinguished. We may mention two other instances of later work,+the “Portrait, linknown, of a Man with a Sabre, and the ‘Uytenbogaert.” The second state of the one, and the third state of the other, are impressions from the plates after they had been cut into an octagonal form for insertion in panel or box-lid. We cannot believe that this was done by Rembrandt, although Mr. Hamerton has suggested, with regard to the former of these, that it was “the original intention to use the copper as an

Vol. 179.-No. 358. 2 C Ornamental

ornamental plate on a box rather than for printing. Had this
been the case, we think that the name and date would not have
been engraved on the plate in reverse.
We have ourselves carefully examined the varied impressions
of thirty of Rembrandt's more important plates, existing in one
hundred and fifty described states; and we contend that the
variations which distinguish fully one-half of these were exe-
cuted by other hands than those of the master; and we may
remind our readers that, in or about 1767, Basam, a Parisian
engraver and print-dealer, to whom we have already referred,
issued, in folio, a volume containing impressions from eighty-
five of Rembrandt's original plates which had come into his
possession, all more or less “restored' by himself or Watelet;
and that after his death the plates passed into other well-known
dealers' hands, and were again and again printed from.
A few words in conclusion. The history of the time when
the Dutch School arose is a history of one of the most stirring
periods in the life of any nation; yet Rembrandt, like nearly
all the artists of Holland who preceded or immediately followed
him, rarely gives any sign in his works of a knowledge of
events almost without parallel in the world's history. Holland
had still a long struggle before her to preserve her hardly-earned
liberty, yet if we except the composition known as ‘The Pacifica-
tion of Holland, in the Rotterdam Museum, there remains
hardly any evidence in the master's works that there ever reached
his ears even the faintest echo of the strife. He cannot be said
to be wanting in imagination, but he devoted it to the expression
of Scripture scenes. The portraits he painted were not of
patriots or warriors, men who devoted themselves for their
country or their faith, but of peaceful burghers, the advocate,
the writing-master, the jeweller, the print-seller, or the burgo-
master, whose literary tastes find vent in composing a tragedy
founded on an old-world fable. When he descends to common
life, he gives us Jews or beggars, picturesque in their dirty
raggedness; and when he turns to landscape, he depicts only
quiet, peaceful scenes. Events, excepting those of simple home.
life, seem to have passed him by ; and his lot, if we judged him
only from his works, and had no other knowledge of his history,
might have been cast in days of uneventful tranquillity.


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

ART. W.-1. Buchan. By the Rev. J. B. Pratt, M.A. Aberdeen, 1870.

2. Transactions of the Buchan Field Club. Peterhead, 1887– 1893.

3. Spalding Club Publications. Aberdeen and Edinburgh, 1840–1870.

4. Papers printed by the Club of Deir. Aberdeen, 1873 and 1876.

5. Ellon Parish Records. Aberdeen, 1876.

N the north-eastern corner of Scotland there lies a region with a distinctive character of its own, which, though situated away from the great routes between north and south, and protected by its remoteness from being the scene of conflicts that decide a nation's fate, yet affords much that well repays the investigations of the antiquarian, the archaeologist, and the student of civil and ecclesiastical history or social development. The stranger with preconceived ideas of Scotland is surprised to find far ‘benorth the Mount’ the physical features of the Lowlands reproduced in an expanse of country which Dr. John Hill Burton once described as ‘a spreading of peat-moss upon a cake of granite,’ and in celebrating which the local poet could never get further than the enthusiastic repetition of the line—

“O ! the howes o' Buchan are bonnie and braw.”

Yet the wind-swept sand wastes, peat-mosses, and bare fields have their own charm, not only for the native-born “Buchan body, but for many others, who have learnt their secrets and their language with rod and gun, men who on the sands of Forvie have been able to fancy themselves in the African Sahara, have sought the grass of Parnassus on the bents of St. Fergus, and have held communion with the winged wanderers of the far north on the low shores of the loch of Strathbeg. Something in the atmosphere of this northern land, where grey days alternate with a brilliant sunshine which challenges comparison with classic skies, appeals to the weather-worn sportsman who has shot in all climes and added to his trophies every kind of game. And who shall adequately interpret the magic sway that the wild coast-line exercises over those who love Nature best when she displays at once her beauty and her power? Whether on a warm summer day, when the red granite cliffs are washed by the slow and sleepy surge of a sea that is never still: or late in autumn, when the thick mist is drifting inland, and the fierce North Sea, in dull leaden grey, is dashing on the

2 C 2 rocks,

« AnteriorContinuar »