"Rembrandt was powerfully attracted by the ease with which the human emotions could be followed in the looks and gestures of such uncultivated children of nature as sailors, workmen, peasants and the beggars of the towns. . . . The illustrious School of Holland without Rembrandt would have lost its poetry, and the apex of its glory. . . .
Rembrandt loves to tell us what ear has never heard, what eye has never seen."
"Rembrandt pleases the eye, but his superiority over every other painter in Holland, and his rank among the great artists of the world, are largely due to his pleasing the mind and the heart."
Rembrandt van Ryn
In our study of Reubens we considered Flemish art in the person of its greatest representative. In our present sketch we shall pass on to the north, to the little country of Holland, and likewise study its art in its most renowned representative.
The history, the cleanliness, the picturesqueness, the industry and the perseverance of the inhabitants of this country command from all alike admiration and love. Her wind-mills like so many giant birds fighting the elements; her cosey home life nurtured by the frequent inclemency outside; her sturdy, upright burgers with their thrifty dames; her mastery of the very sea itself in her system of dykes which says to Old Ocean, "Thus far and no farther"—all these things and many more besides, attract us to this diminutive kingdom wrested from the sea. We are especially interested to know what this practical people did in the way of picture making, what subjects they selected, and how they treated their chosen subjects. Were there those among her artists that towered above their countrymen, like Raphael and Angelo, Murillo and Velazquez, or like Rubens?
Their art was just what we should expect to find it if we stop to think. The Hollander loved above everything else his home and his country. His religion, that of the Reformed Church, called for no pious pictures to deck the walls of his house of worship, and so from the field in which the Italians had flourished he was cut off—that of religious painting. He was not at a loss however, for subjects, for he undertook to draw a portrait of his dear Holland, that is, he painted cosey rooms where home life was enjoyed by the family—they might indeed be but homely and well kept kitchens, but, at all events, they were rooms to long for on a stormy night when the winds rose, and the sea knocked hard at the dykes.
Besides these, there were all those good Dutch housewives, snug and neat, with cap and apron, providing comforts for their families, cutting the bread, paring the vegetables, bending above the garden bed of flaunting flowers and succulent vegetables, plying the provident needle, or occupied with any other of the thousand things a housewife does to bless her family. Then there were the traveling quacks and the beggars, and now and then a hermit praying.
There were also citizens or burgers who, besides accumulating comfort for themselves and their families, had made themselves dear to their community by looking after its affairs with the same wisdom they had used in their own matters. Further still, there were members of military companies to whose valor the country owed its freedom. Surely such men and women as these, although they might be far from handsome, were worthy subjects of the painter's art. The landscape, monotonous at times, perhaps, but ever interesting, with its herds of cattle, its canals with their lazy boats, and the ever present sea with its ladened fleets from distant waters—all over-arched by a varied sky—was another subject dear to the Dutch artist.
Thus we see in kitchens, dames, flowers, beggars, buyers and their guild-halls, landscapes dotted with cattle or diversified with boat-bearing canals, and cloud-flecked skies, the portrait, as I before said, of Holland. This is pre-eminently the type of Dutch painting.
There were great men among the Dutch painters, great even to compare with the Italian artists. Of the average great painter of Holland, perhaps, this may not seem true, but the thought only comes on account of the subjects selected by Dutchmen and Italians. On first thought it seems greater to paint an ecstatic saint or a soaring angel, than to depict the common utensils and surroundings of every day life—the wooden bowl, the shining copper, the homespun clothing, the coarse food—in other words it seems greater to us to paint the ideal than the real thing, greater to be an idealist than a realist. As we study more we shall come to realize the high place held by each class, and the injustice of comparing them, so different are their themes, so similar are their aims—to represent truth, the great legitimate object of art.
In the rank and file of Dutch artists were Gerhard Dow, whose patience thought it no hardship to spend three days painting a broomstick that it might be perfect in detail; Franz Hals and Van der Helst, who represented the life about them more accurately than a photographer could to-day; Paul Potter, who loved the landscape and enlivened it with cattle; or Ruysdael and Hobbema, whose poetic souls needed no breathing thing to make the landscape live—where clouds, gnarled trees, cascades, an old mill in ruins, turned to the pure gold of a beautiful picture under the alchemy of their touch. Such, as I said before, were the rank and file of Dutch artists, for which we today revere the little country by the sea.
But one there is not listed here, for though he is of Holland he is still unique, above his countrymen and possibly above all other artists, in his concentration of thought, in his almost miraculous use of light and shade. Of course I refer to Rembrandt, the subject of this sketch, the mighty master of shadows or, as some one has worthily said, "The Shakespeare of painting." The great master was like the painters of his country in that he painted real people and things. He was unlike them in that he revealed the mystery of the soul, and also in his great versatility as an artist, for you will remember that he painted, etched, and drew with equal facility.
It is difficult to explain his mysterious and soul-stirring qualities, but an illustration may help us somewhat. Many Dutch painters have painted humble family life, and to us their work is expressive. Rembrandt touches his brush and a simple enough picture grows under his hand—"The Carpenter's Household." There is the humble room with the carpenter's tools upon the wall, the workman at his bench, the mother tending her young babe and the grandma leaning over to caress the sleeping child—the simplest elements, real as life, out of which to construct a characteristic Dutch picture. Rembrandt, however, has put these elements together in such a skilful way that one looking at the picture sees and feels more than the interior. We see toil dignified, the blessedness of the care of little children, in short, the beauty of family life, even though it be in a humble abode where the living room is also the shop where the daily bread is earned. If this illustration does not help to explain the subtle something in Rembrandt's work which so appeals to us, turn to the copies of his pictures and study them. They, at least, cannot long hide their charm.
This great master was born with the wonderful seventeenth century, the echoes of whose wars for freedom still sound in our ears. From all the tumult, however, he stood apart, rapt in his study of life, not the life of princes and saints, but the life of the common people from whom he came.
His native city was Leyden, and the city of his mature life, of his fame and his sorrows, was Amsterdam. They were two cities unique in their history, and interesting in all their details, both bound to impress the thoughtful genius of Rembrandt.
Leyden stands on the verge of the North Sea where the majestic and romantic Rhine river, after dividing and subdividing as it approaches the dunes, finally gives itself grudgingly to the sea. What an aristocratic course it has run, by sunny vineyard slopes, by ivy-covered castles! Yet here at its deathbed how insignificant has it become, almost losing itself in the sands! But Leyden is here, and in spite of some depressing surroundings, in Rembrandt's time it was rich and beautiful with its wide streets and rose-bordered canals. Perhaps one hundred and fifty bridges joined the ninety islands on which it was built. On an elevation overlooking the town is the Burg, that old tower built by the Saxon Hengist in honor of his conquest of Britain.
It is an interesting link that binds us of Anglo-Saxon speech to this ancient city. Another and more direct link to us of America is the fact that at Leyden tarried that little company of men and women who made a deathless record when they braved the stormy sea and settled in New England. The very mention of the name Leyden calls up before us that double siege which the city withstood in 1674. The details of that awful time throng upon the mind in spite of itself. It is well that it is so, too, for it is wholesome that we, who now enjoy in our boasted liberties the fruits of that great struggle, should stop once in a while and count what it cost.
We remember the famine that followed the long waiting for William of Orange, then the pestilence, and that long delay of William and his fleet when the great leader lay sick of a fever. We remember his encouraging messages—then that speck upon the waters which grew into the succoring fleet, the breaking of the dykes, the dispersement and drowning of the hated Spaniards, the appeasing of the first hunger of the citizens by loaves flung from the ships of the rescuers, and then the long procession of the inhabitants that, even before the first hunger was wholly appeased, wound its way to the house of God to give thanks for their deliverance. All these are details that every school boy knows and yet loves to have repeated.
No wonder that William of Orange, when he heard of the victory, shed tears of joy! Not a day of the siege was without its display of heroism, but the very crown was placed on heroism when, shortly after the siege, William offered to give the city, in lieu of its great losses, a large sum of money or a university, and the citizens chose the university! It was only the year following the siege, and their losses were fresh in their minds. In spite of this, the high-souled people selected the institution of learning. It is pleasant to relate that their university grew and grew until it ranked the first in Europe, and numbered among its professors and students some of the greatest scholars of the time.
Each city of Holland is an individual, and boasts something peculiarly its own. The glory of Haarlem is its gardens, gorgeous with the most splendid flowers of Europe, among which is numbered the tulip, the blossom that made and wasted fortunes at one time. Amsterdam boasts of its diamond cutters, whose skill, unequalled elsewhere, shows the otherwise dull jewel how to shine. To Leyden, however, belongs the glory of her university, and the luster that comes from having been the home of the Elzevirs, and the birthplace of Rembrandt.
Rembrandt van Ryn, or Rembrandt of the Rhine, was the youngest child of Harmen Garritszoon van Ryn. He was born July 15th, 1607, in the comfortable home of his father, and not in his father's mill as some writers assert. There had been several other children, four boys and a girl. The father was well-to-do. He owned several houses and a large interest in one of the mills on the edge of the town. The mother was the daughter of a baker. She was yet in the prime of life when her artist son was born, and little resembled at that time the wrinkled old ladies known among the artist's pictures as "Rembrandt's Mother." It was indeed a thrifty family of the quality that made up the best part of Holland's population.
We know little of Rembrandt's early years, though it is but natural to suppose that he was much at the mill with his father. Perhaps it was here that he first became deeply impressed with the picturesqueness of those great arms that ceaselessly beat the air.
It is evident from his erudition later in life that he was never much of a student of books, even for the short time that he studied in the university of Leyden. The smallness of his library, too, when his belongings had to be invoiced in later life, also bears out this supposition regarding his early efforts at learning.
It is certain, however, that his art training began early. Lucas van Leyden was the best engraver of his time, and in the town hall was hung one of his greatest pictures. The young Rembrandt went often to see the great work, and in after years became a friend of the artist. The boy who sought out objects of this sort to study already showed the bent of his genius. His parents recognized this, and when he was twelve they apprenticed him to Swanenburg, an aristocrat of the city, and an artist of some reputation among his townsmen. Here he remained for three years, though it is said that Rembrandt could learn only the most elementary things from Swanenburg.
His parents now felt that he was old enough to go from home to more completely fit himself for his art. After some inquiry it was decided that he should enter Peter Lastman's studio in Amsterdam. Lastman had studied in Italy and had mastered the methods of the Italians. Rembrandt entered his studio in 1624. Traces of the master's careful finish are very apparent in Rembrandt's earliest pictures. We can imagine that the youth was lonesome in the great cosmopolitan city of the Amstel, and that he often longed for the mill and the well kept home with his brothers and sister and father and mother.
Whether it was this longing for home, or whether it was disgust with Lastman's commonplace art, we do not know, but Rembrandt stayed but a short time with Lastman—probably six months. He returned to Leyden to study in his own way the art he was about to glorify. He seemed to have no thought of doing what other art students of the time almost invariably did—of going to Italy to study. Lastman evidently had no notion of what a genius had escaped from his stilted training. He kept no record of his pupil and he bought none of his works when he became famous.
Although there was joy in the miller's family over the return of the favorite child, yet we know that he did not settle down to idly enjoy the home to which he was made so welcome. He almost immediately began that long list of drawings, etchings and paintings which ended only with his death. Above everything else, he seemed impressed with the necessity of painting or drawing what he really saw—of working from nature.
In those early years he painted and sketched over and over again the members of his family. His own portrait he represented in every conceivable attitude and wearing all sorts of expressions. Of portrait work he was always very fond, and ever seemed inspired in representing the faces of the aged. Among his studies of old women, though all are excellent, there are a few that stand out as especially fine. Leading them all in excellence we must place, I think, the picture in the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg, and reproduced in this sketch.
Like all of Rembrandt's greatest pictures it seems impossible to analyze its charm. We feel that here is one resting, with crossed hands, after a life of usefulness. There is in the dear old face a sweet and strong record, but better than all, the promises there indited are sweeter and stronger than the record already written:
A less spiritual face but a most attractive one, is that known as "Elizabeth Bas" in the Ryks Museum of Amsterdam. In this old lady, with her perfectly arranged cap and ruff, with her symmetrically buttoned gown, there is a self-satisfied air, that speaks more of this world than of the next. She has been and is yet a prosperous and successful dame, and every line in her face makes us feel it. Of a similar import is the old woman of the National Gallery, London.
The picture known as "Rembrandt's Mother," now in Vienna, is more of the type of the St. Petersburg picture. Although many pictures of old women painted by the artist are designated as "Rembrandt's Mother," there is only now and then one which is a portrait. Critics generally agree that the Vienna picture is one of the very best of these portraits. Certain it is that it is just such a face as we should like to attribute to the mother of the thoughtful artist. Hers has indeed been a life of usefulness and high thoughts. She has accomplished much, and her children rise up and call her blessed.
Group pictures from the Bible also found favor with the artist. Although at times we find Rembrandt worldly enough, and erring too, the Bible was to him the book of books in his art. His mother, whom he so often represents with the Bible open on her lap or closed beside her, must have trained her son well regarding the good book. To its pages he returned repeatedly. One of his earlier pictures represents a great scene from it, "The Presentation in the Temple." It is unlike Rembrandt's greatest work in that all the details are carefully worked out. The beautiful pillars and arches of the Gothic cathedral, the stairway to one side, the richly robed priest, the rejoicing Simeon pouring forth his song of praise, the Virgin and some inquisitive beggars who have come to see—everything is beautifully worked out and yet, after all, the Simeon holding in his arms the Divine Child, with the light from above streaming in upon him, is the central and attractive figure which every other detail of the picture enhances.
The artist, perhaps more than any other intellectual worker, needs an atmosphere—that is, he needs to be among those who, like himself, are producing pictures. We feel this to-day and Rembrandt felt it in his time. The city of Leyden, beautiful, cleanly, and intellectual from the influence of its great university, lacked artists and studios and consequently the opportunities for improvement that every growing artist needs. On the other hand Amsterdam furnished these very requirements and so, once again, Rembrandt said good-bye to his family, the mill, and his native city and journeyed by canal to Amsterdam, the city of his hope.
The longings and homesickness of his early student days vanished, except on rare occasions when he gave himself up to moments of complete rest. He was on fire with zeal for his art, which no subject was too commonplace to grace. In this spirit he entered the motley city with its artists, its Jews, its merchants, and found for himself a place now high, now low, that he filled until his death, for Amsterdam was henceforth to be his home city.
Although Rembrandt had led a quiet life at Leyden, studying from himself and members of his family, yet through these portraits his fame had spread far. He had often been asked by people of Amsterdam to paint their portraits. One famous writer of the time speaks enthusiastically of "this miller, this stripling."
On arriving at Amsterdam his supply of money was limited and so it was necessary for him to find cheap quarters. Many pupils waited only the opening of his studio, so it was also necessary that these quarters be commodious. Such apartments he found in a warehouse on the outskirts of the city. His pupils that gathered about him at once numbered among them men who afterwards became famous. Such were Govert Flinck, Ferdinand Bol and Gerard Dow. He was not only original himself but he wished his pupils to develop their own individuality, and so the studio was divided into stalls, as it were, where each man could work out his own ideas.
He made many friends in the city in spite of his taste for retirement. He was a constant and accurate observer of the varied life which is so striking a feature of Amsterdam. He was especially attracted by the beggars of every degree who thronged its streets in some quarters. His pictures of beggars would make a complete gallery of earth's unfortunates. For this class of subjects he used the etcher's art, perhaps, because he could return to the plates again and improve them.
Three of Rembrandt's friends deserve special mention. They were Burgomaster Six, Hendrick van Ulenburgh, a print seller, and Doctor Tulp, the professor of anatomy in the surgeon's guild. Rembrandt was anxious to perfect himself in drawing and so he had attended many of Tulp's lectures and had become well acquainted with the professor. The guild wished their portraits painted in a group that it might be hung in the guild hall as a reminder of Doctor Tulp's great work. Rembrandt was selected to paint this picture.
His excitement was intense over this, his first great commission. The desire of the guild was that the picture should represent Doctor Tulp lecturing to his class. Many subjects of this sort had been painted and engraved by previous artists, but there had been nothing that could be called a picture, only a monotonous line of portraits, among which it was impossible to distinguish the professor from the students. It never entered Rembrandt's mind that such a photographic representation would at all satisfy Doctor Tulp and his associates. His plan was to have a central point of interest about which to group his portraits. In a few sketches he produced his wonderful "Anatomy Lesson," the most famous doctor's picture ever painted.
There sits Doctor Tulp, with forceps in hand, explaining the intricacies of the tendons of the dead man's arm and hand. His listeners, seven in number, lean to hear and see, each with an individual and absorbed expression that never could have been obtained had the individuals "sat for their pictures," as we say. He had observed these men when they knew it not and, like the genius that he was, he carried his impressions accurately to his canvas. Our interest in the faces of the men who learn, and of him who teaches, almost makes us forget the dead body in the foreground. The surgeons were delighted with the picture, and the fame of it soon spread throughout Holland. Many men of note came to sit for their portraits.
The "Anatomy Lesson" was painted in 1632, and it was the first of three great pictures which divide the artist's career and mark its beginning, its turning point and its climax. The other two are "The Night Watch" of 1642, and the wonderful "Cloth Makers" of 1661.
Rembrandt went often to Hendrick's shop to look over the etchings, drawings and other prints. Some times he found those by the German, Durer, or those by his fellow citizen, Lucas van Leyden. Indeed he did more than look at these treasures—he frequently bought a precious print for himself for which he gave no mean price.
One other thing at the print shop of Hendrick interested the great artist. A beautiful young girl came also to see the newest prints, and to converse with her cousin, Hendrick, on a thousand subjects dear to them. This was Saskia van Ulenburgh, who afterward became as divinely associated with Rembrandt and his work as Beatrice with Dante, or Laura with Petrarch. She was shy enough at first, but the mighty master with his wondrous gaze soon became her idol by day, her dream by night. On the other hand, to the young artist she became the one thing delightful outside of his art.
Saskia was of a distinguished family. Her father was often at the home of William of Orange. He sat at table with the great leader just before he was assassinated. Both parents were now dead and Saskia lived with a sister.
Rembrandt went himself to get the consent of his parents for his marriage with Saskia. After some delays the wedding took place, and Rembrandt, used to carrying treasures of great price to his home, now took thither, in Saskia, his revered wife, his greatest jewel. The happiest period of his life was that spent with Saskia.
Speaking of Rembrandt's home reminds me of the artist's zeal for collecting art works, jewels, arms, and oriental stuffs. For these things he had an inordinate desire, and perhaps excused himself for many expensive purchases by making them adjuncts to his art. Before his marriage he had collected many of these things to adorn the home to which he was to bring his beloved bride. It is sad to relate that he often bought what he could not afford, and his failure to pay for what he bought finally brought ruin on himself.
The house in which Rembrandt lived during his prosperity was a three story structure opening onto the Breedstraat at the entrance to the Jewish quarter of the city. Its situation here gave the artist fine opportunity for observing this interesting people for whom he always had a great liking. If we enter the house as it was in Rembrandt's occupancy, we shall find it little short of a palace.
His own art and that of others greets us in the very hall-way, for even here are beautiful pictures. In the parlor are Spanish carved chairs upholstered with rich velvet. In the center stands an elaborately carved table of black walnut, loaded with portfolios of rare etchings and drawings. Upon the walls hang beautiful and costly pictures—here a head by Raphael, there a rich Venetian scene by Palma Vecchio. In the corners are cabinets filled with curious gems and beautiful vases, while on a little table yonder is spread a piece of rare tapestry from Tourney.
Beyond is the dining room where Rembrandt and Saskia spent so many happy hours, and where he etched and painted her over and over again. Here was etched that dainty portrait of few strokes under which Rembrandt wrote, "Saskia, my three days' bride." Here was the scene of that famous picture now in the Dresden gallery, in which Rembrandt, quite unlike his usual sedate self, holds on high a tall glass, while Saskia from her perch upon his knee, looks out at the spectator, with just a suggestion of a smile playing about her lips. On the table just at hand is a pie, gorgeously dressed out with the body and tail of a peacock.
In this room, too, where armor of various dates graced the walls, was a picture, perfect in drawing and splendid in coloring, which the master valued very highly. It was by Rubens, Rembrandt's famous Flemish contemporary. Why these two men never met, why Rubens never mentions the great Dutch master is always a great mystery to the students of both men. To return to the dining room—the side-board was loaded with rare glass from Venice, silver tankards and a good wine, although the master seldom drank. There were marble wine coolers, and across one end of the room a great fire-place where roaring logs and dying embers alike gave comfort.
Back of this was Saskia's room, all blue and white like the cloud-flecked sky on the day of their wedding. It was an ample room, and besides serving as sleeping apartment, it was a sort of living room for the family. We can imagine an evening with the artist's family in this room. The master sits at the table etching perhaps some new portrait of Saskia, or their boy, Titus. Saskia sits by occasionally dropping some cheerful remark while she plys her needle or tends the babe. Now and then she stops to comment on the work of her gifted husband whom she loved ever to address as "my master."
On the next floor was the art school, where pupils were instructed for about sixty-five dollars a year each. There was also the studio where Rembrandt did his own painting of the various sitters who came to him. Hallowed indeed was this room. When the master was painting no one dared interrupt him. The king himself, had he dared enter that inspired presence, must needs wait until the artist had completed his sketch.
Such was the home where Rembrandt and Saskia lived, where he entertained his friends and where he instructed his students. Here he knew the greatest joy that can come to man, and here he experienced the bitterest sorrows. Over its blessed threshold he had carried success and happiness, and from it he had gone a bankrupt and desolate man, bereft of family, friends and art treasures.
He never tired of sketching his Saskia in some new attitude. She leaned upon the table with her smiling face shaded by a broad hat, and she was his youthful bride. He loaded her with jewels and oriental fabrics and she was "The Jewish Bride," or she sat upon his knee in one of his jocular moods, and it was "Rembrandt and his Wife" in their dining-room. During all the nine happy years of their life together hers is the face to which he reverts over and over again. She revered her gifted husband, and yet, more worldly-wise than he, she must often have remonstrated with him for spending so freely for the art works which he loved so much, or for mingling so little with men of the outside world, even though it was life itself to her to have him with her in the home. Several children were born to them but all except one, Titus, died in infancy. This sorrow wore upon the beautiful young Saskia, and soon her health became broken. Rembrandt could not realize the sorrow that menaced him, but on it came, relentless as fate.
Through the happy years Rembrandt had been busy indeed with various commissions. Besides the paintings and etchings of himself and Saskia, he had done many notable works. There was "The Shipbuilder and his Wife," now in Buckingham Palace. It seems only the handing of a letter to the builder by his wife, and yet in its sweet composure we read the record of a happy, well-spent life with yet more pleasure in it for this united, prosperous pair. There, too, is "The Philosopher in his Cell," with its wonderful winding stairs and its masterful light and shade. There is "Samson's Wedding Feast," "Manoah's Prayer," and the fierce but effective so called portrait of the great Russian, "Sobieski." There were also "The Carpenter's Household," before referred to, and that inimitable "Lady with a Fan."
Not one of these but is charming, but, if we seek to explain the charm, it eludes us and will not be analyzed. To nothing can we attribute it so much, I think, as to the master's wonderful power in the use of light and shade. By using transparent shadows and high lights very near together, Rembrandt found the best expression for his own thoughtful nature.
Every town had its own military company, its civic guard, and worthy indeed had been the work they had done in the days of Spanish oppression. The guard had its guild hall which it took pride in decorating with the portraits of its members. Such pictures were usually paid for by a sort of tax imposed for the purpose on the members. Those of highest title paid most and the others according to their rank. In this way a considerable sum could be paid for a picture, and yet the burden fell heavily on no one individual.
There was another side to it, however. The men who paid even a small sum expected to be prominent in the picture. It is easy to see that when there was a central theme about which everything subordinated itself it was not always possible to give the required attention to each individual. In 1642, the civic guard of Amsterdam wished such a picture, and they commissioned Rembrandt to paint it. He was determined, as always, that his portrait group should be something besides portraits—that there should be some action to unify the whole.
With this in mind, he represented the whole company suddenly called out of their quarters and given the order to march. The captain and his lieutenant march in front with the light strongly concentrated upon them, while the men arm and load as they go. The standard bearer lifts the flag. There is varied movement and our interest in the cause of it all is intense. So precipitate has been the call and the response of these soldiers that people passing along the street have become mixed in the ranks—hence the presence of the children.
One thing should be remembered and that is that the name "Night Watch" is entirely incorrect for this picture. It was given to the painting after it had hung in the guard hall many years and had become blackened by smoke and dirt. So far from its representing a night scene, the shadow of the captain's hand and arm is plain upon the coat of the lieutenant, and shows the precise position of the sun. It should be called "The Sortie of Banning Cock's Company," which would be plain to everyone, as Banning Cock was the name of the captain. In all copies of the picture which we have, it seems overcrowded, not enough marginal canvas—members of the company cut in two, etc. In making this criticism we must not forget that in 1715 the picture was removed to the town hall and, to make it fit into a given space, it was cut down several inches.
As before mentioned, the picture marked a turning point in the life of the artist. Only a few of the sixteen men who had contributed toward the picture were made prominent enough to please them. The exact meaning of the picture was not evident to all. What did the artist mean by the lighting? How did the witch-like little woman or girl happen to get in among the soldiers? Why were the weapons of the company so varied? There were few, indeed, who were pleased with the picture as a whole. What wonder that the artist became confused in the exuberance of his own thoughts, for his beloved Saskia lay dying! In spite of all these criticisms the picture stands to-day one of the masterpieces of the world, perhaps the chief attraction that draws the traveller to Amsterdam.
Through "The Night Watch" and the death of Saskia, his double life of artist and home-lover was interrupted. Then followed dark days when patrons came not to the studio, and the lonely hours were filled with longing for "The touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still." The artist's work went on, but deeper and sadder subjects engaged his thought. During these years the face of the Saviour is very often found among his pictures. One of these, "The Supper at Emmaus," ranks high among the master's pictures and among all pictures. There sits the worn Christ, who knows the secrets of the tomb. He makes himself known to his companions. They are awed by the revelation to such an extent that we see their feeling in their extended hands, while the boy who serves them almost drops what he is carrying so excited is he by what he hears. As we study the face of the Christ we feel that he has indeed walked with death.
The years wore on with our saddened artist. Public taste turned more and more to the Italians, and, more and more, native artists were neglected. Rembrandt suffered with the others. Moreover there were ugly rumors that the splendid house in which the artist lived was not paid for and that much of the money used in purchasing his art treasures had been borrowed and not repaid. The clouds thickened about our artist until 1658 when there was a sheriff's sale of all his belongings, studio effects and all. The house he loved so much, every room of which spoke to him of Saskia and her children, was bought by a shoemaker. The coveted etchings, prints, and paintings went to the highest bidders, and the master of all, Rembrandt, the world-famous artist, was led away to apartments in an inn.
That auction must have been a stormy place, when, one by one his treasures were sold before his very eyes. We can imagine him offering a spirited protest when one picture by Palma Vecchio, and another by Raphael, were put up. How his heart must have ached as the heartless auctioneer put up some oriental drapery, some jewels with which, in those happy days now long gone by, he had decked Saskia and painted her.
The many who had hailed the painter of "The Anatomy Lesson" as a new found genius, who had curiously eyed the mysteries of "The Night Watch" had by this time forgotten the bankrupt painter. There were a few friends, however, who stood by, and some of them of no mean degree, as Burgomaster Six, whose home was as open to the painter as if he had been a near relative. And one there was of humble station, Hendrickie Stoffels, the peasant maid who had long lived in his family, that stood beside her master in those gloomy years and helped to make his life less dark. Later on the artist, loving her for the sacrifices she had made for his sake, for the light she had brought to his declining years, married her. Even Hendrickie, young and robust as she was, was not spared for long to comfort the painter; she died seven years before him. Meantime Rembrandt had left the inn and settled in a little house on the Rozengracht. It was an humble abode compared with the home he had lost, but Hendrickie managed to make it restful and homelike.
Titus, the son of Rembrandt and Saskia, was about nineteen when his father married. He too loved Hendrickie for what she had done to make his father happy, and he welcomed her to their home, such as it was. So well did she and Titus agree that they entered into a partnership as print-sellers and persuaded Rembrandt to allow them to have the exclusive sale of his pictures. They did this hoping to wholly relieve the artist from all concern in money matters in which he had proved himself such a child. At first he was not pleased with the plan, but he gradually came to see its excellence and the freedom it gave him to pursue his art unmolested. For years the little business prospered, Hendrickie and Titus agreeing perfectly.
It seemed that peace had at last returned to crown the painter's closing years. But suddenly Hendrickie died and shortly after, Titus. The old artist, still loving his art, though sight and health were failing, stood alone in Amsterdam at the last end of his career as he had stood at the beginning. And what a solitary figure he made as he towered above those who had noted him not, rapt in the great thoughts that made his pictures so wonderful.
Death came to him, we know not how, in 1669, for only a line in the parish register tells of his burial and the thirteen florins it cost. It was a strange and sad fate that the man destined to be the best known, the most honored of all the artists of Holland, should thus die like the day or the leaves of summer and "none take note of his departure"!
The sumptuous house in the Breedstraat where Rembrandt lived still stands. The little cottage where Hendrickie and Titus made a home for the artist has disappeared. Even his grave, where we might hope for rest for the burdened man, when opened not long ago, was found to contain no body. As so, were it not for his works made up of drawings, etchings and paintings, a body of work which for power is above comparison with the work of any other artist, we might almost feel, as some say of Shakespeare, that he never existed. The great master's work, however, in each case is indisputable, and so we know our race has been blessed by a Rembrandt and a Shakespeare.
It is pleasant for us to know that late in life, in 1661, Rembrandt received one more important commission. By the beauty, repose and balance of this work, excelling all his other great pictures, it shows that though the outward life of the man had been disturbed and sad beyond expression, yet there was inward repose and faith and power. I speak of that wonderfully simple but very powerful and beautiful picture, "The Cloth Makers," that now hangs in the Ryks Museum in Amsterdam.
Five men, the chosen of their guild, sit about a table casting up the accounts of the guild for the year to find the gains and losses. There is little in the subject to call out the powers of an artist, but so wonderfully has Rembrandt treated it that those five buyers and the one servant represented in the picture tell us things never dreamed of in "The Anatomy Lesson" or "The Night Watch."
Rembrandt is often called the Shakespeare of painters and I think with good reason. As we think over the work of each it seems that painter and dramatist are wonderfully alike in their treatment of life. "The Anatomy Lesson" is like those early plays of Shakespeare, where everything is plain. There is in them the self-satisfied air of gifted youth. In the middle of the poet's career, when family losses were pressing hard, came "Hamlet," beautiful, overflowing with meaning, but confused in its own richness—not clear. It was like "The Night Watch" of Rembrandt's career. And then, when age softened the soul and mellowed the intellect, see what lovely romances Shakespeare wrote—"Winter's Tale" and "The Tempest," where forgiveness rules and the end is crowned with sweet concord. Poet and painter agree in so representing life—Rembrandt and Shakespeare, the greatest in their lines of work, using different arts and a different language, read alike the secrets of life!
Perhaps the most difficult thing to account for in Rembrandt's life was his complete ignorance of money matters, of practical life, while in his art he was a hero and the very acme of provident care. In practical matters he knew not persistency, in his art he could and did persist even though all patrons turned from him to the idols of Italy. In the list of years his art has triumphed, even though the artist died without creating a stir. Such was the man and artist, vacillating on the one hand, heroic on the other; a bankrupt from one point of view, the unique artist from the other.
What a host of pictures stand among the world's great work to crown the hero artist—old women, with caps and crossed hands, who by their dear faces tell us that there is much left in the last days—still "The best is yet to be"; old men and young men; beggars in every conceivable attitude; portraits of himself from youth to age so that we know him at every stage as we would an old friend; scenes from the Bible that drive the truth home to us as never before did painter or preacher; calm landscapes where the lazy windmill drones in the sunshine; doctors, soldiers and cloth merchants doing the business of the world. What variety of subject! What unity of treatment, done, as no other could do them, by the concentration of light, by the deepening of shadows which at their blackest have a certain transparency.