Sunday, April 12, 2009

How Rembrandt drew Jan Six's bridge

Rembrandt, Six's Bridge, 1645, etching, 12.9 cm x 22.4 cm 
(about 5 x 8"), Rijksmuseum

This is one of my favourite Rembrandt drawings, who knows why? While looking it up today I stumbled on this account of how it came to be made:

"The love of his art caused him to be always provided with the materials for drawing and etching, so that we have these transcripts of nature fresh from the fountain head. We know this from an anecdote mentioned by Daulby. In describing the etching of "Six's Bridge," in his catalogue, he says, "This plate was produced by an incident which deserves to be related. Rembrandt lived in great intimacy with the Burgomaster Six, and was frequently at his country seat. One day, when they were there together, the servant came to acquaint them that dinner was ready, but as they were sitting down to table, they perceived that mustard was wanting. The Burgomaster immediately ordered his servant to go into the village to buy some. Rembrandt, who knew the sluggishness of the Dutch servants, and when they answer austons (a-coming) they are half an hour before they appear, offered the Burgomaster a wager that he would etch a plate before his man returned with the mustard. Six accepted the wager, and Rembrandt, who had always plates at hand ready varnished, immediately took one up, and etched upon it the landscape which appeared from the window of the parlour in which they were sitting. The plate was finished before the servant returned, and Rembrandt won his wager. The etching is slight, but it is a wonderful performance, considering the circumstance that produced it." It is not wonderful on account of the rapidity with which it was done, but the genius and science that pervade every touch, not only in the general arrangement, but in the judicious management of the smallest darks; they are all in the most effective situations. When the plate was bit in, the name was left out; it was afterwards added with the dry point; also a little shading was given to the hat of one of the figures on the bridge, which in the rare state is white."

From Rembrandt and His Works by John Burnet FRS, London, MDCCCXLIX. (1849?) -- but really from the Project Gutenberg ebook of the above book,

And to think, it was 200 years before Impressionism.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating! My wife and I just received one from her grandfather, and I was happy to find your piece on it. This story adds so much depth to the piece. I am going to have to learn more about etching next to appreciate it yet more.

Mary Adam said...

Congratulations, what a wonderful piece to have! :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Mary,

Thank you so much for your blog. I received a copy of this Rembrandt etching from my aunt as a Christmas present. Until I read your blog I did not even know the title or the wonderful story about the mustard. I was wondering if you could give me some direction on where to research when the print was made? I recently had a print maker/book binder remove the print from it's backing. From the research on your blog and and other websites, I guess it is a third state printing. The lower left corner from the front is stamped #781. From the back, on the lower right are two stamps. One is round and reads "fascimile- production der reichsdruckerei Berlin". The other stamp is oval and reads "Amsler & Ruthardt Alleinverkauf Berlin W.S.". I notice there is a catalog of the 1891 Amsler & Ruthardt auction online; Do you think it would be worth purchasing?