Overview

After learning the fundamentals of drawing and painting in his native Leiden, Rembrandt van Rijn went to Amsterdam in 1624 to study for six months with Pieter Lastman (1583–1633), a famous history painter. Upon completion of his training Rembrandt returned to Leiden. Around 1632 he moved to Amsterdam, quickly establishing himself as the town’s leading artist, specializing in history paintings and portraiture. He received many commissions and attracted a number of students who came to learn his method of painting.

Nineteenth-century connoisseurs considered Rembrandt’s painting of The Mill to be one of the master’s greatest creations. They celebrated the dramatic silhouette of the post-mill against a dark, stormy sky, unaware that the romantic aura and rich golden tone of the scene were caused by darkened and discolored varnish. They attributed the heavy atmosphere to Rembrandt’s frame of mind in the period of the mid-1650s, when he encountered severe financial difficulties. The restoration of the painting in 1977–1979 removed the old varnish, thereby changing the painting’s symbolic character. Under the blue and steel-gray sky, the bright sails on the vanes draw the viewer’s eyes to the mill, which is perched on a bulwark to take advantage of the additional height. Although it is possible that Rembrandt based this scene on his father’s mill on the ramparts of Leiden, he imaginatively conceived the scene to symbolically portray the mill as a guardian, protecting the land and its people.

Inscription

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Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Philippe II, duc d'Orléans [1674-1723], Paris; by inheritance to his son, Louis, duc d'Orléans [1703-1752], Paris; by inheritance to his son, Louis Philippe, duc d'Orléans [1725-1785], Paris; by inheritance to his son, Louis Philippe Joseph, duc d'Orléans [1747-1793], Paris; acquired 1792 with the Dutch, German, and Flemish paintings of the Orléans collection by Thomas Moore Slade, London, for an English syndicate;[1] (exhibition and sale [by private contract], The Great Rooms, Pall Mall, London, April-June 1793, no. 91); William Smith, M.P. [1756-1835], until at least 1815;[2] Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd marquess of Lansdowne [1780-1863], Bowood House, Wiltshire, by 1824;[3] by inheritance to his son, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 4th marquess of Lansdowne [1816-1866], Bowood House; by inheritance to his son, Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th marquess of Lansdowne [1845-1927], Bowood House; sold April 1911 through (Arthur J. Sulley & Co., London) to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1793
The Orleans Gallery, The Great Rooms, Pall Mall, London, 1793, no. 91, as Landscape with a mill (twilight).
1806
British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1806, no catalogue (special exhibition of paintings displayed for copyists).
1815
British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1815, no. 37.
1864
British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1864, no. 112.
1878
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1878, no. 172.
1888
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1888, no. 74.
1899
Exhibition of Works by Rembrandt. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1899, no. 40.
1969
Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art [Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Artist's Death], National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, no. 6, repro.
2006
Rembrandts Landschaften [Rembrandt's Landscapes], Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, Staatliche Museen Kassel; Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, 2006-2007, no. 5, repro.
2009
Turner and the Masters, Tate, London; Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2009- 2010, no 58 (London and Madrid), no. 70 (Paris), repro.

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1911
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1911
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1912
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1913
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1914
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1918
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1919
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1921
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1921
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1922
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1923
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1923
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1923
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1923
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1923
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1923
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1924
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1928
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1928
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1929
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1930
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1931
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1931
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1931
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1931
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1932
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1935
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1935
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1937
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1937
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1938
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1938
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1939
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1939
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1940
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1942
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1944
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1944
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1944
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1945
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1948
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1948
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1954
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1955
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1956
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1956
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1956
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1956
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1957
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1957
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1959
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1960
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1960
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1962
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1962
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1963
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1964
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1965
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1966
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1966
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1966
Stechow, Wolfgang. Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century. Kress Foundation Studies in the History of European Art 1. London, 1966: 137, 211 n 23, no. 277, repro.
1968
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1968
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1968
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1969
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1969
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1972
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1972
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1974
Hendy, Philip. European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 1974: 206.
1975
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1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 38, 274, no. 364, color repro.
1975
Wright, Christopher. Rembrandt and His Art. London and New York, 1975: 68, 70, 71, fig. 54.
1977
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1978
Hochfield, Sylvia. "The Great National Gallery Cleaning Controversy." Art News 77 (October 1978): 58-61, repro.
1979
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "De Restauratie van 'De Molen'." Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis 31, no. 1 (1979): 9-13, repro.
1983
Larsen, Erik. Rembrandt, peintre de paysages: Une vision nouvelle. Louvain-la-Neuve, 1983: 76-77, 99, no. 13, pl. 16.
1984
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1984
Rosenberg, Jakob, Seymour Slive, and Engelbert H. ter Kuile. Dutch Art and Architecture. The Pelican History of Art. Revised ed. Harmondsworth, 1984: 74.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 274, no. 358, color repro.
1984
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1985
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1985
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1986
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1987
Sutton, Peter C. Masters of 17th-century Dutch landscape painting. Exh. cat. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Philadelphia Museum of Art. Boston, 1987: 460, 462 n 11.
1988
Moore, Andrew W. Dutch and Flemish painting in Norfolk: a history of taste and influence, fashion and collection. Exh. cat. Norwich Castle Museum. London, 1988: xix, 46.
1988
Slive, Seymour. "Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Painting." The Burlington Magazine 130 (May 1988): 395-398, repro.
1988
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "The Art Historian in the Laboratory: Examinations into the History, Preservation, and Techniques of 17th Century Dutch Painting." In The Age of Rembrandt : studies in seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Papers in art history from the Pennsylvania State University 3. Edited by Roland E. Fleischer and Susan Scott Munshower. University Park, PA, 1988: 214, fig, 9-5; 216-218; 226, fig. 9-8, X-ray; fig. 9-9, detail X-ray.
1989
Brown, Christopher. "Re-appraising Rembrandt." Sotheby’s Preview (November/December 1989): 6-9.
1989
Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vol. 3: 1635-1642. Edited by Josua Bruyn, et al. Dordrecht, Boston, and London, 1989: 49-50, fig. 52.
1990
Schneider, Cynthia P. Rembrandt’s Landscapes: Drawings and Prints. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Boston, 1990: 5, 27, 42, 44-46, 47, 54, 84-85, 88, 113-114, 183-190, 208, 234 n.95, pl. 5.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 195, 196. 198.
1992
Hall, Nicholas H. J. Colnaghi in America a survey to commemorate the first decade of Colnaghi New York. New York, 1992: 20, fig. 19.
1992
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1992
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 130, repro.
1993
Pidgley, Michael. "The Mill by Rembrandt." In The Romantic Windmill: The Windmill in British Art from Gainsborough to David Cox, 1750-1850. Edited by Timothy Wilcox. Exh. cat. Hove Museum and Art Gallery; Usher Gallery, Lincoln; Gainsborough's House, Sudbury. Hove, 1993: 16-27, 48.
1995
Liedtke, Walter A. Rembrandt/not Rembrandt in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: aspects of connoisseurship. Vol. 2, Paintings, drawings, and prints: art-historical perspectives. Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995: 28.
1995
Verbraeken, René. La peinture de paysage en Hollande au XVIIe siècle. Paris, 1995: pl. XXIII, 211-214.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 230-241, color repro. 233.
1997
Fleischer, Roland E., and Susan C. Scott. Rembrandt, Rubens, and the art of their time: recent perspectives. Papers in art history from the Pennsylvania State University 11. University Park, PA, 1997: no. 1-8, repro.
1997
Pomeroy, Jordana. "The Orléans Collection: its Impact on the British art world." Apollo 27 (February 1997): 27, repro.
1998
Stott, Annette. Holland mania: the unknown Dutch period in American art & culture. Woodstock, New York, 1998: 20, fig. 2.
1999
Schneider, Norbert. Geschichte der Landschaftsmalerei, vom Spätmittelalter bis zur Romantik. Darmstadt, 1999: 159, repro.
1999
Thornes, John E. John Constable's skies: a fusion of art and science. Birmingham, 1999: 168, 169, pl. 76.
2000
Wright, Christopher. Rembrandt. Collection Les Phares 10. Translated by Paul Alexandre. Paris, 2000: 289, fig. 290, repro.
2002
Quodbach, Esmée. "The Last of the American Versailles: The Widener Collection at Lynnewood Hall." Simiolus 29, no. 1/2 (2002): 45, 46, note 6, repro.
2003
Verdi, Richard. Saved!: 100 years of the National Art Collections Fund. Exh. cat. Hayward Gallery, London, 2003: 30, fig. 8.
2003
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. Facsimile edition of London 1854. London, 2003: 2:501-502, no. 5; 3:156-158.
2004
Lambert, Ray. John Constable and the theory of landscape painting. Cambridge, 2004: 158, 159, repro.
2004
Scallen, Catherine. Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship. Amsterdam, 2004: 204..
2005
Smith, David R. "Rembrandt's Metaphysical Wit: The three trees and the Omval". Word & Image 21, no. 1 (January-March 2005): 3, 5, repro.
2006
Bakker, Boudewijn. "An Amsterdam Windmill in Washington." In Rembrandt 2006. 2 vols. Edited by Michiel Roscam Abbing. Leiden, 2006: 1:74-84, fig. 5a, as by Rembrandt (?).
2006
Gifford, E. Melanie. "Evocation and Representation: Rembrandt’s Landscape Painting Technique." In Rembrandt's Landscapes. Edited by Christiaan Vogelaar and Gregor J. M. Weber. Exh. cat. Staatliche Museen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel; Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden) Zwolle, 2006: 120-143.
2006
Heffernan, James A. W. Cultivating Picturacy: Visual Art and Verbal Interventions. Waco, Texas, 2006: 143, fig. 7.1.
2006
Hochfield, Sylvia. "Rembrandt: Myth, Legend, Truth." Art News Magazine 105 (Summer 2006): 167, repro.
2006
Rosenberg, Pierre. Only in America: One Hundred Paintings in American Museums Unmatched in European Collections. Milan, 2006: 18, color fig. 19.
2006
Schwartz, Gary. The Rembrandt Book. New York, 2006: 242, 243, repro.
2006
Vogelaar, Christiaan, and Gregor J. M. Weber. Rembrandt's Landscapes. (Exh. cat. Staatliche Museen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel; Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden). Leiden, 2006: 135, repro., no. 5, fig 58, repro 76.
2007
Brown, Christopher. "The Rembrandt Year." The Burlington Magazine 149, no. 1247 (February 2007): 105, 106, repro.
2009
Solkin, David H. Turner and the Masters. Exh. cat. Tate Britain, London; Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. New York, 2009: no. 57, 162, repro. 163 (English cat.), no. 70 (French cat.), no. 58 (Spanish cat.).
2011
Slive, Seymour. Jacob van Ruisdael: Windmills and Water Mills. Los Angeles, 2011: 4, 7, 98 n. 3, fig. 3.
2013
Harris, Neil. Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Chicago, 2013: 229-235, 237, 238, 240, 245-250, 541, nt. 37.

Conservation Notes

The original support is a fine-weight, tightly woven, plain-weave fabric, lined with the tacking margins trimmed. Cusping, which extends 7 cm into the painting, is present along the bottom edge, indicating that it is original. No cusping exists along the top or sides of the painting, which could indicate that these edges have been cut. The right edge, however, has a puzzling characteristic: the paint ends approximately 1 cm short of the edge, although the ground extends until the edge. The abrupt edge of the paint along the right side of the painting probably indicates that it is the original edge despite the fact that no cusping exists along the right side of the canvas support.[1]

The canvas was prepared with a double ground consisting of a reddish brown lower layer followed by a yellowish gray upper layer.[2] The composition was laid out first with a brown painted sketch under both landscape and sky and then further developed in a broadly handled black painted sketch. Black strokes, some from a wide, splayed-out brush, can be seen with infrared reflectography at 1.2 to 2.5 microns[3] where they laid out landscape forms, the figures and the mill, and the concentric ripples in the water. In the mill this sketch is also visible with the naked eye.[4] The paint was applied in two stages: the bright colors of a brush-marked first stage were muted by more restrained colors and smooth-textured paint in the final stage.[5]

Numerous changes and reworkings by the artist are evident. The painted sketch originally placed the mill between a hill on the left and, on the right, a bridge crossing from the promontory to the edge of the composition and reflected in the water below.[6] Reserves visible in the X-radiographs show that the sky and water first were painted up to these sketched forms. Soon after, the profile of the hill was lowered and the bridge and its reflection were eliminated; the sky, the shore, and the water were reworked. Disruptions to the underlying paint indicate that the revisions were made soon after the first image was laid out. At the same time a large standing figure on the promontory was replaced by the small figure leaning over the wall and the boat with oarsman was introduced.

The painting is in excellent condition, with only minor flake losses along the edges and a small loss and abrasion in the upper left corner. Dark gray stains in the sky may be due to the discoloration of the pigment smalt.

In 1976 a small slit in the lower left corner was repaired. Treatment was carried out in 1977–1979 to consolidate flaking paint, remove the old lining and replace it, and remove discolored varnish and retouching. The painting was treated again in 2001, at which time the 1979 varnish was removed because it was no longer saturating the dark paint.

 

[1] See Ernst van de Wetering, "The Mill," in Rembrandt’s Landscapes, ed. Christiaan Vogelaar (Leiden, 2006), 83.

[2] The paint and ground layers were analyzed by the Scientific Research department using cross-sections and polarized light microscopy (see reports dated September 26, 1978, and May 9, 1979 in NGA Conservation department files).

[3] Infrared reflectography was performed with a Mitsubishi M600 PtSi focal plane array camera.

[4] For a similar handling of brown and black painted sketches, see the probably unfinished Landscape with a Castle (Louvre, Paris). On both paintings see E. Melanie Gifford, "Evocation and Representation: Rembrandt’s Landscape Painting Technique," in Rembrandt’s Landscapes, ed. Christiaan Vogelaar and Gregor J. M. Weber. Exh. cat. Staatliche Museen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel; Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden. (Zwolle, 2006), 120-143.

[5] E. Melanie Gifford, "Evocation and Representation: Rembrandt’s Landscape Painting Technique," in Rembrandt’s Landscapes, ed. Christiaan Vogelaar and Gregor J. M. Weber. Exh. cat. Staatliche Museen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Kassel; Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden. (Zwolle, 2006), 120–143.

[6] The use of the painted sketch in these areas was confirmed by microscopic examination, cross-sections, and infrared reflectography at 1.2 to 2.5 microns. The infrared reflectogaphy was performed using a Mitsubishi M600 PtSi focal plane array camera.

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