Updated: Jan 13

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait at the age of 34, 1640

"The Master of Dutch painters"

Last month I wrote about Van Gogh, a decently skilled painter from the post-impressionism era. He had a very creative mind, which developed to fit the character of that time. Now, we speak of another Dutch painter but from the early 17th century: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, a painter who proved to be a proponent of the true principles of the profession in a well-balanced way. He is widely debated the greatest painter of all time.

To add to his prolific nature in the time, he had to create paintings of large scenes and subject matter, often religious, but portraits were his common forte. His use of paint could go from thick and rich to thin and elegant with the smoothest of transitions, full of personality. In his drawings and etchings, each line was perfectly placed. He could use the fewest lines to create the most detailed drawings. It is beyond impressive how developed his talents were.

Rembrandt, Artist in his Studio, 1626

Rembrandt grew up in Leiden, a large textile town in the Netherlands, and his parents were millers. He dropped out of school when he was 14 to begin a painting career. He received an apprenticeship by Jacob van Swanenburg for three years, followed by a short while with Pieter Lastman. Eager to begin his career, he opened his first studio at 19 years of age, going on to teaching his own students 3 years later.

By the end of his 20s, he moved to Amsterdam, where his painting career began to kick off. He was a smart guy and knew where the money was. At the time, Amsterdam was a happening place full of wealthy businessmen. Many of which went on to be his customers for years to come. He painted these individuals with the perfect expression they desired. The fact that he had done so many self-portraits and had similar desires of the businessman, made him the perfect man for the job. He painted them as he himself would like to be portrayed.

Rembrandt, The Nightwatch, 1642

The grandeur of Rembrandt’s portraits during the major years of his success were delightful – and the reason people kept coming to him. The colors, highlights and shadows were all delightfully laid down, but he was also a master of light. In photography, there is even a lighting effect named after him, which occurs when the light source is displayed at a ¾ view and you have that perfect triangle on the cheek bone below the eye.

During this time, mid to late 1630s, came his most successful years in terms of earnings, even though he was an infamous art historian and used almost all his money to buy other art. Very nice art, but art nonetheless. He proved not to be much of a saver and would have desperately benefited from a financial advisor. Rembrandt married Saskia van Uylenburgh and they had four children together but unfortunately, three of them died early on. Rembrandt faced much death in his life, as he outlived his wife and son.

Rembrandt, Portrait of Nicolaes Ruts, 1631

After his wife died, he had relations with his caretaker and maid (at separate parts on the timeline), but also faced many financial hardships. He lost almost everything and spent his last years struggling. During this time, however, he created some of his best works. He simplified his technique and gave color, texture and detail a more "freed" touch. He stopped caring so much about what people desired and created what he wanted to display and share. More artistic opportunity, if you will.

Rembrandt’s career ended in disgrace, and he was buried in an unmarked grave, but his legacy is legend. His paintings have been adored through the years and studied thoroughly. He went down one of the greatest masters of all time. Each of his paintings, drawings or etchings cannot be looked at without an adornment of how each brushstroke or line compliments the composition of the piece. The compositions in and of themselves are very well balanced and remarkable. Immersed in any of his pictorials, you can take out a real sense of emotion and personality, especially his single-subject portraits. It was Rembrandt’s likeness and relatability with the subject that helped achieve such a level of success.