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Rembrandt Van Rijn
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Portrait at a Window   Peasant Family On The Tramp   Self-portrait in a cap, with eyes wide open. 1630
etching and burin

In the early 1620's after leaving school, Rembrandt did several years of experimentation with the technique of etching. His earliest undated prints were produced about 1626 and the earliest dated prints were done in 1628. Rembrandt was able to express great genius in a series of studies, portraits and Biblical subjects of which he did many. His etchings numbered more than 300 and were well received due to the fine detail of the pieces. The execution of the plates was a masterful accomplishment for the time.

Throughout his lifetime Rembrandt produced his likeness as a representation of his experiences. He was a master of self-portrait and both etched and painted these autobiographical works

Rembrandt's reputation was well established by 1632 when he moved to Amsterdam, where he lived for the remainder of his life. There he received many commissions and prospered.

The late 1630's and early 1640's were marked by events that deeply influenced Rembrandt's life. His mother died 1640 and his wife Saskia died in 1642, both of whom were represented in several of his etchings. His son Titus was the only one of his children with Saskia who survived his mother.

It has been in the 20th Century that some historians have come to consider him a much better etcher than he was a painter. No surprisingly, this hypothesis invites much debate. What is not in question, however, is that Rembrandt Van Rijn was, and still is, the greatest etcher the world has ever known. No artist in history has equalled his achievement with copperplate and needle.

His style varied from brief gestural strokes, barely suggestive of reality, to dramatic Baroque compositions rivaling any completed painting in complexity and finish. His choice of subjects and subject matter ranged from small studies to large complicated works, depicting passages from the Old and New Testaments.

Much of the artist's work in oil, especially after his move to Amsterdam in the 1630s and having become a famous and much sought after portrait painter, was a result of commissions and Guild-sanctioned assignments. Most of these pictures were for him a means of income rather than personal expression. By contrast, the majority of the huge body of work in the medium of etching (as evidenced by the creation of some 330 plates, over a scant 40 year period) was Rembrandt giving rise to his estimable muse and veritable wellspring of talent. Admittedly, some of these prints were meant for the common market, and were purchased and displayed by his audience even then. But just as certainly, many more of them were done purely for the artist's own sublimation or personal inquiry.

More importantly looking over the artist's body of work in printmaking, from his first efforts in 1623 to his last in 1665, one can very nearly chart the evolution of the man's life, a life filled with much travail and tragedy, from soaring heights to object poverty and despair. Rembrandt etched it all. Perhaps no other artist has so candidly shared with us the vicissitudes of his personal fortunes, both financial and emotional, with such a wealth of human understanding and insight. No other artist so thoroughly ravaged the trappings of his own life with such a searing inquiry into the human condition.

It might be said of the artist that his contentious and rebellious nature was a manifestation of this determination to remain true to himself, to his art, and to what he must have considered a God-given gift. And because Rembrandt did just that, his work in the medium remains so much more than just pictures on paper. It is the standard against which all other work in the etching process has been and will be judged.