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Artist Biography

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)

Rembrandt Harmenz van Rijn, born July 15, 1606 in Leiden, was the son of a miller, Harmen Gerritz van Rijn (1568-1630), and his wife Neeltgen van Zuytbrouck (1568-1640). The youngest son of a least ten children, Rembrandt was not expected to carry on his father's business. Since the family was prosperous enough, they sent him to the Leiden Latin School, where he remained for seven years. In 1620 he enrolled briefly at the University of Leiden, perhaps to study theology. Orlers, Rembrandt's first biographer, related that because "by nature he was moved toward the art of painting and drawing," he left the university to study the fundamentals of painting with the Leiden artist Jacob Isaacsz van Swanenburgh (1571-1638). After three years with this master, Rembrandt left in 1624 for Amsterdam, where he studied for six months under Pieter Lastman (1583-1633), the most important history painter of the day.

After returning to Leiden, Rembrandt quickly developed a reputation as a history painter and portraitist. By 1628, his work, and that of his colleague in Leiden, Jan Lievens (1609-1674), was enthusiastically praised by the secretary to the Prince of Orange, Constantijn Huygens (1596-1674). Huygens admired particularly Rembrandt's uncanny ability to convey feeling through gesture and expression and through dramatic contrasts of light and dark. That same year, Rembrandt, at the age of twenty-two, took on his first pupils, Gerard Dou and Isaac Jouderville (1612-1645/1648). Documents indicate that Jouderville paid Rembrandt one hundred guilders a year to study with him.

By 1631, Rembrandt had become financially involved with the Amsterdam art dealer Hendrik van Uylenburgh (c. 1587-1661). The nature of Van Uylenburgh's enterprise, which was called "an academy" in its day, is not entirely understood, but it appears that he orchestrated an active art studio that specialized in portrait commissions. In any event, around 1632 Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, where he lived with Van Uylenburgh and ran his "academy" until 1635. Rembrandt achieved tremendous success. He received many commissions and attracted a number of students who came to learn his method of painting. Artists who had previously been trained elsewhere, including Jacob Backer (1608-1651), Govaert Flinck (1615-1660), and Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680), worked during these years at Van Uylenburgh's studio under Rembrandt's guidance.

In 1633, Rembrandt became engaged to Van Uylenburgh's niece Saskia (1612-1642), daughter of a wealthy and prominent Frisian family. They married the following year. In 1639, at the height of his success, Rembrandt purchased a large house on the Sint-Anthonisbreestraat in Amsterdam for a considerable amount of money. To acquire the house, however, he had to borrow heavily, creating a debt that would eventually figure in his financial problems of the mid-1650s. Rembrandt and Saskia had four children, but only Titus, born in 1641, survived infancy. After a long illness Saskia died in 1642, the very year Rembrandt painted The Night Watch.

During the 1640s life became more unsettled for Rembrandt. Geertje Dirckx (1600/1610-1656?) soon entered the household as a nurse for Titus and became a companion to Rembrandt. In 1649 he dismissed her and entered into a lifelong relationship with Hendrickje Stoffels (1626-1663). While Hendrickje seems to have been a warm and caring companion for Rembrandt, the early 1650s were fraught with personal turmoil. Rembrandt and Geertje Dirckx became embroiled in a number of contentious lawsuits that give the impression that he treated his former mistress quite badly. Rembrandt and Hendrickje never married because of stipulations in Saskia's will; this situation caused Hendrickje public humiliation when she became pregnant in 1654. She was called before a council of the Dutch Reformed church and censored for having "lived with Rembrandt like a whore." Their daughter, Cornelia, was baptized on October 30, 1654.

Financial difficulties also beset Rembrandt during these years, and he was forced to declare insolvency in 1656. His estate, including his large art collection, was auctioned in 1657 and 1658. He then moved to an artist's quarter in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam, eventually renting a relatively small house on the Rozengracht where he lived for the rest of his life. Hendrickje and Titus subsequently formed a business partnership to protect Rembrandt from further demands of creditors.

Although Rembrandt did receive a number of important portrait commissions during the late 1650s and early 1660s, stylistic trends had veered away from his deeply personal manner of painting. He became more and more isolated from the mainstreams of Dutch art. No students are documented as having worked with him during the latter half of the 1650s, and only one student, Aert de Gelder (1645-1727), is known to have come to study with him in the 1660s.

Rembrandt's financial situation remained poor during the 1660s. He owed a substantial amount of money, in particular to the art dealer and collector Lodewijk van Ludick, a debt he hoped to repay with the money he would receive from his large painting for one of the lunettes in the Amsterdam Town Hall, The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm). Rembrandt's composition, however, was rejected by city authorities in 1662. To raise funds he was then forced to sell Saskia's grave in the Oude Kerk. He never regained financial solvency and during his last years lived on the savings of his daughter, Cornelia.

Although Rembrandt remained famous as an artist, there seems to have been little to lighten the burdens of his life during his last years. In 1663, a plague that ravaged Amsterdam claimed the life of Hendrickje. Four years later, Titus married Magdalena van Loo (1642-1669), but in 1668, he too died, the victim of another epidemic. When Rembrandt died on October 4, 1669, he was buried in an unknown rented grave in the Westerkerk, Amsterdam.

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Late Etchings

Artist Biography:
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)

Curator Biography:
Authur K. Wheelock, Jr.

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