301 Rembrandt’s core: the drawings

Since 1991, the opinion has held sway that only 70 drawings by Rembrandt can be confirmed with great certainty. That is, drawings that are signed, otherwise inscribed in Rembrandt’s hand, indented for transfer to the etching plate or serving as preparatory studies for an autograph painting or etching. Schwartz now expands that list from 70 to 169.

In June 2009 a grand conclave of Rembrandt specialists took place at a castle in Sussex. Herstmonceux was bought in 1993 by the amazing Alfred and Isabel Bader, who donated it that same year to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario as a study center abroad. The Baders have endowed Queen’s with choice Dutch paintings from their collection and with top experts to curate them and to teach Dutch art. They have turned Queen’s into the most important academic center for the study of Dutch art in North America.

Alfred and Isabel Bader were in the front row of the two long days of the Rembrandt conclave, which they sponsored. Given the circumstances – notably that none of the more than 50 scholars in the room had at one time or other not been pilloried in print or pointedly ignored by one or more of the other participants – the atmosphere was friendly if somewhat strained. Personally, I found it difficult to join meaningfully in discussions of points about which I had written extensively and which were batted about the room in opinionizing sound bites.

One point about which I have not published until now I did try to put into play, without success. It concerns the number of drawings that are so firmly given to Rembrandt that they can serve as a basis of reference for other attributions. The concept was sensibly introduced into the literature by Peter Schatborn, the retired chief curator of prints and drawings of the Rijksmuseum. In the introduction to the exhibition catalogue Rembrandt: the master and his workshop: drawings and etchings (p. 10), held in Berlin, Amsterdam and London in 1991-92, writing of the need to separate the corn from the chaff in the attribution of drawings to Rembrandt, Schatborn wrote:

In order to accomplish this distinction, the first thing that has to be done is to establish which drawings can be regarded with some measure of certainty as the work of Rembrandt. These form the core of his oeuvre. Except for a small number of borderline cases, specialists are in broad agreement concerning this group. The autograph status of the drawings in the core group is determined by signatures and inscriptions in Rembrandt’s hand and beside that by the function of drawings as preparatory studies for autograph paintings and etchings. It is rather surprising that the group of “certain” drawings that can be formed in this way is small, in any case not much larger than about seventy drawings.

At the exhibitions, it was being said that Schatborn had drafted his list in collaboration with his colleague Martin Royalton-Kisch of the British Museum. In subsequent discussions with them, they confirmed this. From the start, I found it impossible to believe that the number of such drawings was as small as 70, and my skepticism has only grown throughout the years. Part of the research I did for my book on Rembrandt in 2006 was to keep track of drawings that I came across that matched Schatborn’s criteria. It had 125 items.

I have been waiting impatiently all this time for one of two developments to take place. Either for Schatborn and Royalton-Kisch to publish the list and let the rest of us judge it, or for one or more colleagues of theirs in the field of Rembrandt drawings to subject their statement to critical scrutiny. Since neither of these things has happened, I seized on the Herstmonceux gathering to force the issue. The following exchange took place:

Schwartz: Peter, do you still think that the core list of Rembrandt drawings is no larger than 70?

Schatborn: Yes. It may be a bit larger, say 75.

Schwartz: Have you ever published the list?

Schatborn: No.

Schwartz: Why not? Shouldn’t you and Martin back up your claims with argued information? In preparation for my book of 2006 I began assembling a list of the drawings that answer to your criteria, and there were 125 items on it.

Schatborn: If you show me your list I will cut it down to 75.

If anyone else in the hall shared my impression that this was a trifle arrogant, they kept it to themselves. As I sat down, Holm Bevers of the Berlin print room, the third member of the troika of main Rembrandt drawings specialists, leaned over and said to me helpfully, “Anyone can make that list. Just go through Benesch [that is, Otto Benesch’s six-volume catalogue of the drawings of Rembrandt] and you can make it by yourself.”

Well, I have now done so, with consultation of more authorities than Benesch alone. And I am showing it not only to Peter Schatborn, but to all interested parties.

The upshot is this. There are 20 drawings that are signed by Rembrandt and another 24 with inscriptions by him. No doubt is possible concerning five drawings that were indented for transfer to the etching plate. That makes 49. For the one painting and one etching for which we have the largest number of related drawings, St. John the Baptist preaching and The hundred-guilder print, 18 sheets are known. That leaves room for three (or eight, if you are being expansive) more drawings on the Schatborn-Royalton-Kisch core list.

On my list there are however not three or eight above those 67 but 101 more drawings that are related so closely to autograph paintings and drawings by Rembrandt that they serve the purposes of a core list. In order to submit them to your judgment, I have taken the trouble to make scans of all the drawings, paintings and etchings concerned and to add them as adjuncts to the Schwartzlist. Not all the relations are visible in this form. However, each and every one of these relations has been broached by respected specialists and nearly all have been confirmed by others. To my knowledge, the authenticity of not one of the 168 sheets has ever been doubted in print by Schatborn, Royalton-Kisch or Bevers.

There is only one explanation I can imagine for the small number of drawings on the Schatborn list. That is, that he takes the notion “preparatory drawing” excessively literally, limiting it to drawings that are exactly equivalent to a composition or detail in an autograph painting or etching and that can be dated before the painting or etching. I have employed a more general criterion for about half of the 101 sheets referred to above. That is, any drawing whose attribution is generally accepted that is undeniably related to an autograph painting or etching. On the nature of such drawings we have the testimony of Arnold Houbraken (vol. 1, 1718, p. 257), who wrote:

With regard to art he was rich with ideas, so that you frequently see him making a great number of different sketches of one and the same object, full also of changes in the figures and poses as well as the arrangement of the clothing; for which he is to be praised above all others – especially above those who employ such figures and clothing in their work as if they were twins.

This picture is reflected perfectly in the examples on my core list. It is a rich compendium of drawings, covering the full range of Rembrandt’s work from early to late, from the most informal to the most elaborate modes, from renditions that show variants of the finally chosen solution to some that correspond like twins, in all the kinds of subjects that Rembrandt created. The list offers wide opportunity for the responsible attribution to Rembrandt of comparable drawings that are not directly related to known paintings and etchings. I fail to see why, given the possibility to construct a list of this kind, one should prefer to work with a far more restricted list of core drawings that offers so many fewer possibilities for comparison with other drawings. A list of the kind of which Houbraken so rightly disapproves.

For the sake of clarity and to keep the website pages within bounds, I have divided the list into nine sections, to which I provide links below:

1. Signed drawings: 21
2. With inscriptions in Rembrandt’s hand other than a signature: 24 drawings
3. Indented for transfer to the plate: 5 drawings, used for 5 etchings
4. Related to the compositions of history paintings: 20 drawings related to 16 extant paintings and 2 that are lost but known through prints
5. Related to details of history paintings: 22 drawings related to 10 paintings
6. Related to painted portraits or figures: 10 drawings related to 8 paintings
7. Related to etched compositions: 32 drawings related to 20 etchings
8. Related to portrait, figure and genre etchings: 22 drawings related to 19 etchings
9. Related to landscapes: 13 drawings related to 1 painting and 8 etchings

In all, the nine sections contain 169 drawings, a list that can surely be added to. The 119 drawings that are included because of their relation to a painting or etching (other than the five indented ones) are connected to 37 paintings and 47 etchings.

For each drawing, I provide an abbreviated reference to Otto Benesch’s catalogue and with few exceptions to a standard authority later than Benesch. The references are given in full below.

The issue involved is more important than merely a question of numbers. It has far-going consequences for our reconstruction of Rembrandt’s working method and our understanding of his art. These consequences will be addressed in Schwartzlist 302. It will appear in time for the next get-together of Rembrandt specialists, at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles on February 2nd, at which the opening talk is: Peter Schatborn, “The core group of Rembrandt drawings.” There I hope to spark a more satisfying discussion of this matter than that at Herstmonceux. Unless, of course, Peter Schatborn succeeds to the contentment of the field to slash my list back down to 75.

© Gary Schwartz 2010. First published on 16 January 2010 on the Schwartzlist and TheArtsFuse.
Please address reactions to Gary.Schwartz@xs4all.nl.

See continuation on Schwartzlist 302. On 2 February 2010, following the symposium at the J. Paul Getty Museum, where this issue was indeed discussed, I added to the nine lists above references to the core list maintained by Martin Royalton-Kisch. The drawings on his list are noted in the references as MRK 2010, those not on it as Not MRK 2010. The reader can now see which drawings that I consider to belong on a core list are not on that of Royalton-Kisch. Peter Schatborn’s core list may or may not be identical to that of Royalton-Kisch.

References in sections 1-9 of the Core list of Rembrandt drawings

Ackley et al. 1989
Clifford Ackley et al., exhib. cat. From Michelangelo to Rembrandt: master drawings from the Teyler Museum, New York (Pierpont Morgan Library) 1989

Ackley 2003
Clifford S. Ackley, exhib. cat. Rembrandt’s journey: painter, draughtsman, etcher, Boston (Museum of Fine Arts) 2003

Bomford et al. 2006
David Bomford et al., Art in the making: Rembrandt, London (National Gallery Company) 2006

Bakker 1998
Boudewijn Bakker et al., Landscapes of Rembrandt: his favourite walks, Bussum (Thoth Publishers), Amsterdam (Gemeentearchief Amsterdam) and Paris (Fondation Custodia) 1998

Otto Benesch, edited by Eva Benesch, The drawings of Rembrandt, 6 vols., London (Phaidon) 1973

Bevers et al. 1991
Holm Bevers et al., exhib. cat. Rembrandt: the master & his workshop: drawings & etchings, Berlin (Altes Museum), Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum) and London (National Gallery) 1991

Bevers 2006
Holm Bevers, Rembrandt: die Zeichnungen im Berliner Kupferstichkabinett: kritischer Katalog, Berlin (Kupferstichkabinett Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) 2006

Bisanz-Prakken 2004
Klaus Albrecht Schröder and Marian Bisanz-Prakken, exhib. cat. Rembrandt, Vienna (Albertina) 2004

Blankert 1997
Albert Blankert, exhib. cat. Rembrandt: a genius and his impact, Melbourne (National Gallery of Victoria), Sydney (Art Exhibitions Australia) and Zwolle (Waanders Publishers) 1997

Broos 1981
Ben Broos, Oude tekeningen in het bezit van de Gemeentemusea van Amsterdam, waaronder de collectie Fodor, vol. 3: Rembrandt en de tekenaars uit zijn omgeving, Amsterdam (Amsterdams Historisch Museum and Meulenhoff/Landshoff) 1981

A corpus of Rembrandt paintings
J. Bruyn et al., A corpus of Rembrandt paintings, 4 vols. to date, first three vols. published by Kluwer under imprint Martinus Nijhoff, Dordrecht 1982, 1986 and 1989; vol. 4, by Ernst van de Wetering, was published by Springer Verlag, Berlin 2005

Giltaij 1988
Jeroen Giltaij, De tekeningen van Rembrandt en zijn zijn school in het Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam (Museum Boymans-van Beuningen) 1988

Hinterding 2008
Eric Hinterding, Rembrandt etchings from the Frits Lugt Collection, 2 vols., Bussum (Thoth Publishers) and Paris (Fondation Custodia ) 2008

Lammertse and van der Veen 2006, pp. 52-53
Friso Lammertse and Jaap van der Veen, Uylenburgh & son: art and commerce from Rembrandt to De Lairesse, 1625-1675, Zwolle (Waanders) and Amsterdam (Rembrandt House Museum) 2006

Logan 1995
Carolyn Logan, entries on drawings in exhib. cat. Rembrandt/ not Rembrandt in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: aspects of connoisseurship, vol. 2: Paintings, drawings and prints: art-historical perspectives, New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art) 1995

Magnusson 1992
Börje Magnusson, “Rembrandts teckningar / Rembrandt’s drawings,” in exhib. cat. Rembrandt och hans tid: människan i centrum / Rembrandt and his age: focus on man, Stockholm (Nationalmuseum) 1992

MRK 2010
E-mail from Martin Royalton-Kisch, 20 January 2010, with specification of the drawings on the list of documentary drawings or core list maintained by him. The references on the Schwartzlist are the first publication of this list. Posted on the Schwartzlist on 2 February 2010 following a conference at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, at which Peter Schatborn, when asked whether he and Martin Royalton Kisch had ever published the core list they have been maintaining since the 1980s, replied that it was no secret, that he and Martin Royalton Kisch had released it to any colleagues who asked for it, and that it had been sent to me by e-mail.

Peck 2003
Sheldon Peck, Rembrandt drawings: twenty-five years in the Peck collection, Boston 2003

Röver-Kann 2000
Anne Röver-Kann, exhib. cat. Rembrandt, oder nicht? Zeichnungen von Rembrandt und seinem Kreis aus den Hamburger und Bremer Kupferstichkabinetten, Bremen (Kunsthalle Bremen) 2000

Royalton-Kisch 1992
Martin Royalton-Kisch, Drawings by Rembrandt and his circle in the British Museum, London (British Museum Press) 1992

Schwartz 2006
Gary Schwartz, The Rembrandt book, Brussels (Mercatorfonds) 2006

Schwartz 2007
Gary Schwartz, “Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Simeon with the Christ child in his arms, with Mary and Joseph,” in: In arte venustas: studies on drawings in honour of Teréz Gerszi, presented on her eightieth birthday, Budapest (Szépmüvészeti Múzeum) 2007, pp. 170-72

Scrase 1996
David Scrase, Rembrandt and the nude: prints by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), online catalogue of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Starcky 1988
Emanuel Starcky, exhib. cat. Rembrandt et son école, dessins du Musée du Louvre, Paris (Réunion des musées nationaux) 1988

Tümpel 2003
Christian Tümpel, “Jesus und die Ehebrecherin und Rembrandts Notizen auf Zeichnungen mit Historien,” in Thea Vignau-Wilberg, ed., Rembrandt-Zeichnungen in München / The Munich Rembrandt drawings: Beiträge zur Ausstellung Rembrandt auf Papier…, Munich (Graphische Sammlung München) 2003, pp. 161-75

Vignau-Wilberg 2001
Thea Vignau-Wilberg, exhib. cat. Rembrandt auf Papier: Werk und Wirkung, Munich (Hirmer) 2001

Van de Wetering and Schnackenburg 2001
Ernst van de Wetering and Bernhard Schnackenburg, exhib. cat. The mystery of the young Rembrandt, Kassel (Staatliche Museen Kassel) and Amsterdam (Museum het Rembrandthuis) 2001

De Winkel 2006
Marieke de Winkel, Fashion and fancy: dress and meaning in Rembrandt’s paintings, Amsterdam (Amsterdam University Press) 2006