Self-portrait in a cap and scarf with the face dark: bust., result 1 of 1
During his lifetime, Rembrandt's extraordinary skills as a printmaker were the main source of his international fame. Unlike his oil paintings, prints travelled light and were relatively cheap. For this reason, they soon became very popular with collectors not only within but also beyond the borders of the Netherlands, and it also explains why, 200-300 years later, they were affordable to collectors such as Bishop Ditlev Monrad and Wellington collector and philanthropist Sir John Ilott, wiho presented this print to the National Art Gallery in 1952.
Rembrandt's etchings are remarkable for their high number of self-portraits (over 30 out of about 290). These are particularly collectible, perhaps due to the smaller number of states as well as the artist's compelling and powerful presence. Unlike his stately religious scenes, or regal posed portraits of others, which exhibit his careful and calculating brilliance as an etcher, Rembrandt's self-portraits reveal him as an artist and a man. In them he assumes the role of the experimenting artist, approaching the most difficult of subjects - himself.
This work dates from 1633 when Rembrandt was in his mid-to-late 20s; he had recently moved from his native Leiden to Amsterdam and was famous and successful. To some extent this work reflects his status, showing him wearing a cap and scarf, facing one way but looking in the other. It is a fine example of Rembrandt's interest in chiaroscuro etching - with detailed passages coupled with extreme bare space. Areas like the left shoulder, cheek bone and right pupil demonstrate areas of bare 'highlight' etching. These sections are in brilliant contrast to the diligently detailed areas of Rembrandt's hair, lower torso and face. Thus his self-portraits were a means for Rembrandt to explore his experimental technique, indulge his curious nature and reveal his personality.
Te Papa's impression is from the third of the five states of this etching and was produced after Rembrandt's lifetime, probably in the 18th century. Vertical shading on the upper lid of the left eye and a few diagonal lines reduce the highlight to the left of the moustache; however, the print pre-dates the reworking of highlights in Henri Louis Basan's Parisian workshop (1797-1809).
References: New Hollstein Dutch 120, 3rd of 5 states; Hollstein Dutch 17, undescribed state.
Dr Mark Stocker Curator, Historical International Art September 2017
Now viewing Self-portrait in a cap and scarf with the face dark: bust.