Rembrandt's landscape etchings are concentrated in little more than a decade of his career as a printmaker. His interest in the subject first evolved in painting, and when he turned to drawing and etching, his landscapes became more intimate and responsive to the local scene. Many have been identified with specific locations around Amsterdam, giving the viewer a sense of accompanying Rembrandt along the canals and across the fields outside the city.
An inventory of Rembrandt's possessions in 1656 records three albums full of landscapes drawn from nature. The practice of an artist working out-of-doors was relatively new and coincided with the growing acceptance of landscape as a worthy subject in its own right. The region around Amsterdam was notable for its flatness, a defining feature of the Dutch countryside. The dikes that protected the low-lying country from the advancing sea also delineated the well-established routes taken by the artist on his excursions, where windmills, modest country cottages, and farm buildings captured his attention.
Rembrandt's most striking contribution to the art of landscape lay in his recognition of the value of understatement and in his ability to convey much with an economy of means. Barely a few strokes suffice to render a city profile or communicate the movements of a tiny figure in the distance. A range of printing techniques and variable inkings applied selectively could suggest atmospheric effects, but Rembrandt also understood the expressive potential of leaving an area blank. His mastery of landscape arises not from a documentary impulse, but rather from his capacity to transform the familiar and unexceptional into something remarkable.