Of all the paintings by Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art, none has provoked stronger feelings over the years than has The Mill. The enormous fame accorded it in the nineteenth century, when it was admired by artists and critics alike, culminated when it was sold in London in 1911 for the extraordinary sum of £ 100,000.
The National Gallery of Art curatorial files contain seventy pages of typed excerpts from English newspapers and magazines from the period of its sale in 1911.
Peter A. B. Widener, Without Drums (New York, 1940), 55–56, as quoted by John Walker, National Gallery of Art, Washington (New York, 1963; French, German, and Spanish eds., 1964), 274.
Despite the painting’s renown, which can be traced back to the eighteenth century when it was in the collection of the Duc d’Orléans, and the enthusiastic endorsement of Bode, the attribution of The Mill has been a matter of great dispute throughout the twentieth century. The expert who seems to have first questioned the attribution was Woldemar von Seidlitz. Although Seidlitz had raised the question in newspaper articles since 1902, his first serious analysis of the stylistic problems concerning the attribution of The Mill appeared in the art journal Kunst und Künstler just after the sale of The Mill.
Woldemar von Seidlitz, "Rembrandts Mühle," Kunst und Künstler 9, no. 10 (July 1911): 550–552.
Almost simultaneously with the appearance of Seidlitz’s article were newspaper reports that a recent cleaning of The Mill had uncovered the signature of
Arthur J. Sulley, the dealer who bought The Mill for Widener, alluded to such reports in London newspapers in a letter dated July 24, 1911 (National Gallery of Art curatorial files), which he wrote to A. Hauser, the restorer who cleaned The Mill in 1911.
Ellis K. Waterhouse, "Mr. Hind on Rembrandt," Burlington Magazine 61, no. 356 (November 1932): 238–239, notes: “the sight of The Mill has always given me a Hercules Seghers feeling, and I think Mr. Hind seems also to have wondered.”
Wilhelm Bode, Abraham Bredius, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, Woldemar van Seidlitz, and Jan Veth, “Rembrandts Mühle,” Kunst und Künstler 10, no. 1 (October 1912): 21–27.
After the flurry of excitement in 1911 about the sale of The Mill and the issues of attribution, the painting, interestingly enough, was not again seriously discussed in the literature for more than sixty years. Although the painting continued to be admired in the United States and was accepted as a Rembrandt by scholars working in this country, primarily Jakob Rosenberg and Wolfgang Stechow, a number of important Rembrandt scholars working in Europe quietly eliminated the painting from the artist’s accepted oeuvre.
Jakob Rosenberg, Rembrandt (Cambridge, MA, 1948), 30–31; reprint, Rembrandt: Life and Work, 2 vols. (Greenwich, CT, 1964), 1:978; and Wolfgang Stechow, Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century, National Gallery of Art Kress Foundation Studies in the History of European Art (London, 1966), 137.
Kurt Bauch, Rembrandt Gemälde (Berlin, 1966); Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, rev. ed. by Horst Gerson (London, 1969). Although the attribution of The Mill was not questioned in the 1969 exhibition of Rembrandt paintings at the National Gallery of Art (Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art [Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Artist’s Death], exh. cat. [Washington, DC, 1969], no. 6), Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, who curated that exhibition, has indicated to me (personal communication, 1993) that he did not believe in the attribution of the painting to Rembrandt at that time. He said that he did not express this opinion in the catalog because he “was a guest of the National Gallery (Kress Professor).” He did, however, admit to a reporter from Newsweek (March 10, 1969) that “chances are remote that ‘The Mill’ is a Rembrandt” (p. 88).
Interest in The Mill, however, peaked once again in 1977 when the decision was made at the National Gallery of Art to conserve the painting. The Mill was found to be structurally unsound, reason enough for the proposed conservation treatment, but an added incentive was the issue of attribution. Only by removing the heavy layers of discolored varnish that had come to obscure the surface of the painting could anything be learned about the existing color tonalities and painting techniques—information, it was hoped, that could help determine whether or not the image had been executed by Rembrandt.
Prior to the restoration, I also had serious doubts about the attribution of The Mill to Rembrandt.
The decision to treat The Mill, however, unleashed a storm of controversy in the United States that eventually even threatened the existence of the conservation program at the National Gallery of Art.
The controversy about the restoration of The Mill lasted about two years and involved a large number of museum directors, curators, and conservators. Indeed, the issues were quite complex emotionally, philosophically, and politically, but neither the extent of the controversy nor its level of intensity would have existed had another painting been at issue. For Paul Mellon’s recollections of the controversy see Paul Mellon, with John Baskett, Reflections in a Silver Spoon: A Memoir (New York, 1992), 311–313.
An article on the restoration in the Washington Post (September 16, 1977) by Paul Richard, for example, had as a heading: “The Mystery of ‘The Mill’: Is It a Rembrandt? And When They Clean It, Will the Mood Go Along with the Varnish?” John Walker, National Gallery of Art, Washington, rev. ed. (New York, 1984), 274, wrote a postscript on The Mill after the restoration: “In my opinion, it has gained in colorfulness but has lost in sublimity. The patina of time often adds to the beauty of a work of art, but how this painting looked when Rembrandt finished it we shall never know.”
The myths that so integrally linked this painting to Rembrandt’s life grew in the romantic era, when the dramatic lighting and stark silhouette of the mill against the stormy sky struck a particularly responsive chord.
For a fuller treatment of this subject than offered in this entry see Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “De Geschiedenis en Bekoring van ‘De Molen,’” De Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis 29 (1977): 20–32.
William Buchanan, Memoirs of Painting, 2 vols. (London, 1824), 1:195, seems to have been the first to write that Rembrandt had depicted “a view of his Father’s Mill on the banks of the Rhine.” John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, 9 vols. (London, 1829–1842), 7:189, no. 601, gave the painting the title Rembrandt’s Mill. Smith (7:xiii) placed special significance on the mill in Rembrandt’s training, writing: “having acquired a knowledge of the rules of art, he retired to his father’s mill, and from the somber interior of this mill, he is supposed to have first caught the hint of that powerful opposition of light and shade, which he subsequently carried to such high perfection in his works, and hence he may be said to have created a new Era of painting.”
Lucking Taverner, “Rembrandt’s ‘The Mill,’” Christian Life, April 1911.
“₤100,000 Rembrandt. Huge Offer for ‘The Mill’” to Lord Lansdowne. National Gallery’s Position,” London Daily News, March 1, 1911.
Such interpretative assessments of The Mill were encouraged by the layers of discolored and darkened varnish that had accumulated on the painting. These thick layers of varnish, which had given the painting a golden tone, also obscured many landscape details, allowing for a more generalized effect. The chiaroscuro effects so admired by nineteenth-century critics were enhanced in 1911 when The Mill was cleaned selectively to bring out the contrast of the dark mill against the light sky.
On April 8, 1911, Arthur Sulley, the dealer who had bought The Mill for Widener, sent a letter to Dr. Bode in Berlin to inform him that he had just sent The Mill by special messenger to Berlin to have the painting examined by Professor Hauser, Bode’s restorer. He asked Bode to consult with Hauser as to whether the picture should be cleaned. He wrote, in a manner that mirrors the concerns expressed during the conservation controversy of 1977–1979: “I have the feeling that if it is cleaned right down that the picture may lose some of the poetic charm which it has, and which is perhaps intensified by the old and discoloured varnish.” Bode, however, was in Italy at the time, so the decision about the nature and extent of the cleaning was left entirely in the hands of Professor Hauser. He telegrammed Sulley on April 10: “it would spoil the picture to clean off all the varnish. It is enough to remove the yellow patches on the right side of the sky and water to heighten the effect.” Sulley telegrammed his permission for partial cleaning that same day. As Sulley wrote to Widener on April 11, he felt that Hauser knew “more about the cleaning of Rembrandt pictures, and of Rembrandt’s manner of painting, than everyone else put together.” (This correspondence is in National Gallery of Art curatorial files.)
Just how distorted this image had become over time is evident by comparing the painting as it appeared before its restoration with an etching of it in reverse in the 1786 catalog of the Duc d’Orléans’ collection
This painting, as all those of this master, is of a vigourous and animated effect which has the principal interest of a site copied faithfully after nature. This simple composition does not owe to Rembrandt any other richness than that of harmony, and the magical effect which nourishes and revives everything. He possessed to an eminent degree this portion of picturesque genius, above all so essential in the genre of landscape [painting] where nature herself dictates the disposition of the scene, in determining the planes, the masses, and creates the borders that the fire of enthusiasm is unable to go beyond without risking to disfigure it.
Abbé de Fontenai (Louis-Abel de Bonafons), Galérie du Palais Royal gravée d'après les tableaux des differentes écoles qui la composent: Avec un abrégé de la Vie des Peintres & une description historique de chaque tableau, 2 vols. (Paris, 1786), 1: unpaginated repro: “Ce tableau, comme tous ceux de ce Maître, est d’un effet vigoureux et piquant qui fait le principal interêt d’un Site copié fidelement d’après Nature. Cette composition simple ne doit à Rembrandt d’autre richesse que celle de l’harmonie, et la Magie d’effet qui feconde et vivifie tout. Il possedoit à un dégré eminent cette portion de génie Pitoresque, si essentielle surtout, dans le genre du Paysage où la Nature dicte elle même l’Ordonnance de la Scêne, en détermine les Plans, les Masses, et pose des bornes que le feu de l’enthousiasme, ne peut franchir sans risquer de la défigurer.”
Neither the description nor the engraving emphasizes the effects of light and dark—the deep brooding, almost mysterious mood—so admired throughout most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In 1793 the painting was acquired for £500 by William Smith, a prominent politician from Norwich and friend of the artist
The Duc d’Orléans sold his Dutch, Flemish, and German paintings to an English speculator, T. M. Slade, in 1792 in the midst of the French Revolution. The selling price was 350,000 francs. Slade, who secreted the paintings out of France, exhibited them for sale the following spring at the Old Academy Rooms in Pall Mall. The Mill was bought by Smith at this exhibition.
I would like to thank Ernst van de Wetering for bringing this drawing to my attention.
The numerous copies, variants, and descriptions of The Mill in the early to mid-nineteenth century provide further information about its appearance during these years. A watercolor copy probably made between 1806 and 1811 by
The watercolor, which measures 27.2 by 32.4 centimeters, is in the Boston Athenaeum. Craig, who in 1812 was appointed Water-Colour Painter to Queen Charlotte, frequently exhibited at the British Institution. This watercolor was made as part of an ambitious attempt to publish a series of books containing engraved reproductions of Old Master paintings then in England. Only one volume was completed (Tresham’s British Gallery of Pictures, London, 1818), in which The Mill was not included. This information was kindly provided to me by Harry Katz, Art Department, Library of the Boston Athenaeum (letter, July 15, 1983, in National Gallery of Art curatorial files).
It is with Turner that the first truly romantic interpretation of The Mill is to be found. His notes on Rembrandt’s “celebrated” picture stress Rembrandt’s forceful use of extreme contrasts of light and shade in the painting rather than its picturesque qualities: “But the sails of the mill are touched with the incalculable(?) ray, while all below is lost in inestimable(?) gloom without the value of reflected light, which even the sky demands, and the ray upon the Mill insists upon.”
As quoted in John Gage, Color in Turner: Poetry and Truth (New York and Washington, DC, 1969), 198–199. See also David H. Solkin, ed., Turner and the Masters (London, 2009), 162. Solkin quotes Turner’s admiration for Rembrandt’s ability to create “that veil of matchless colour, that lucid interval of Morning dawn and dewy light on which the Eye dwells so completely enthrall’d, [that] it seeks not for its liberty, but as it were, thinks it a sacrilege to pierce the mystic shell of colour in search of form.”
Charles J. Nieuwenhuys, A Review of the Lives and Works of Some of the Most Eminent Painters (London, 1834), 12.
Gustav Friedrich Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, and Illuminated Mss., trans. Lady Eastlake, 3 vols. (London, 1854–1857), 3:158, wrote: “The contrast between the warm gleams of the setting sun, with the deep, golden, transparent tones of the foreground, the luminous evening sky, and dark rain-clouds are as finely conceived as they are splendidly executed.” John Walker, National Gallery of Art, Washington, rev. ed. (New York, 1984), 274, wrote: “And this melancholy sentiment, this mood of sublime sadness, which Rembrandt conveys through the stark simplicity of a windmill silhouetted in the fading light against the mist-filled sky, is indescribably moving.”
Not surprisingly, the conservation treatment of 1977–1979 revealed that much of the painting’s somber mood was the result of darkened varnish.
The painting was conserved once again in 2001 because the varnish was no longer sufficiently saturating the paint. The changes in the painting’s appearance after that treatment, however, were minimal compared to those that occurred in 1977–1979.
The land changed as well, although the transformations were not as dramatic as in the other areas. Instead of a large undifferentiated mass of brown in the foreground, a rich range of earth tones and blacks articulates the ground, the foliage, and the bricks that form the wall of the bulwark. The figures have emerged from the darkness, in particular a man climbing the hill on the left, who was virtually indistinguishable in the painting’s former state. On the far shore are two cows and what appears to be a herd of sheep. The reflections in the distant water are soft and lucid and add to the greatly enhanced feeling of depth that the painting now has.
Finally, the appearance of the classic post-mill itself changed: it does not appear as massive as it formerly did. It is painted in a wide range of earth tones that culminate in a soft salmon color at the ends of the sunlit sails. The mill, moreover, is clearly not situated in the foreground plane, but in the middle ground, behind the bulwark rising above the water. Just below the mill, fences help integrate its architectural character with the surrounding landscape.
The changes that occur after a painting has been cleaned are often dramatic. In this instance, they carried even added weight. Few paintings have been revered in the way that The Mill has for qualities that were derived from darkened varnish. Many feared that the impact this painting created would be destroyed if the varnish were removed, that it somehow could lose its sense of mystery. Fortunately, that fear was groundless, and the painting continues to impress the viewer with the profundity of its conception. The drama is still present, only it is richer, more varied, and less somber. The appearance is now quite comparable to that found in early nineteenth-century copies and variants of The Mill, although it is probable that viewers then were able to see even more detail in the landscape than is presently possible.
The amount of detail described in The Mill, however, may also have been exaggerated as a result of the aesthetic of the picturesque that was current in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Although the 1977–1979 conservation treatment of The Mill did much to correct the misinterpretations of the mood of the scene, it did not immediately solve the controversy about the attribution. While this author and Cynthia Schneider firmly supported the attribution to Rembrandt, neither Gary Schwartz nor Christian Tümpel included the painting in their monographs on Rembrandt, and Josua Bruyn, in an essay for the Rembrandt Research Project, attempted to attribute The Mill to Rembrandt’s pupil Ferdinand Bol.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., "De Restauratie van 'De Molen'," De Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis 31, no. 1 (1979): 9–13, repro.; Cynthia P Schneider, Rembrandt's Landscapes (New Haven, 1990), 44–46, no. 6, 183–190. Seymour Slive (personal communication, 1993) also accepts the attribution of The Mill to Rembrandt. Gary Schwartz, Rembrandt: His Life, His Paintings (New York, 1985), and Christian Tümpel, Rembrandt, trans. Jacques and Jean Duvernet, Léon Karlson, and Patrick Grilli (Paris, 1986), omit The Mill from their oeuvre catalogs. Josua Bruyn, in A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 3, 1635–1642, ed. Josua Bruyn et al. (Dordrecht, Boston, and London, 1989), 3:49, attributes The Mill to Bol and dates it around 1650. Bruyn’s primary point of comparison, Bol’s only known landscape painting, River Landscape with Cattle (art market, 1992), is not convincing. Albert Blankert, the author of the Bol monograph, also does not believe Bol painted The Mill. (He expressed this opinion at the Rembrandt Symposium in Amsterdam in 1992. Blankert, however, also doubts the Rembrandt attribution for this painting.) In 1993, Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann (personal communication) remained emphatic in his belief that The Mill was not by Rembrandt (see note 8 above).
Ernst van de Wetering, “The Mill,” in Rembrandt’s Landscapes, ed. Christiaan Vogelaar and Gregor J. M. Weber (Leiden, 2006), 75–90. On Bode, see note 6 above.
The problem of attribution was partly due to the fact that The Mill departs from other Rembrandt landscape paintings. It focuses quite dramatically on a single motif, rather than integrating a number of smaller elements as do both his fantasy landscapes of the late 1630s and his small Winter Landscape of 1646 (Gemäldegalerie, Kassel).
See inventory no. 242, from the Gemäldegalerie, Kassel.
See inventory no. R.F. 1948–35, from the Musée du Louvre, Paris.
Drawing quickly to record a composition or the most significant features of a subject.
On Rembrandt’s use of brown and black painted sketches in the landscapes, see E. Melanie Gifford, “Evocation and Representation: Rembrandt’s Landscape Painting Technique,” in Rembrandt's Landscapes, ed. Christiaan Vogelaar and Gregor J. M. Weber (Leiden, 2006), 120–143.
Although The Mill was consistently dated in the 1650s by earlier scholars, particularly those who wanted to associate the somber character of the image with Rembrandt’s hardships during that decade, the color tonalities that emerged after the restoration are more consistent with his work in the 1640s. Compositionally, moreover, the combination of dramatic elements (swirling clouds and silhouetted mill) with prosaic ones (figures washing clothes at the water’s edge) has its closest parallel in Rembrandt’s etching The Three Trees of 1643
The relationship of the color tonalities in these two paintings is particularly close.
The London drawing is illustrated in Otto Benesch, The Drawings of Rembrandt: A Critical and Chronological Catalogue, 6 vols. (London, 1954–1957), 4: no. 668. Benesch (2: no. 361) dates the Budapest drawing “about 1637.” In my opinion, however, his date is too early. The blocky forms of the figures are more consistent with those of the early to mid-1640s (see Benesch, 4: no. 659).
The painting as we see it today is not how it was originally conceived. In an initial stage of the painting (revealed by
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
The shape of the hill was also revealed by
The X-radiographs have also revealed that no thread distortions in the weave of the canvas exist along either side or the top of the painting, an indication that the support may have been trimmed in these areas, but particularly along the top and left edges (see Technical Summary). Ernst van de Wetering has examined the proportional relationships of width to height in Rembrandt’s other landscapes and has convincingly proposed that The Mill’'s original dimensions may have been approximately 90 by 120 centimeters. He rightfully notes that the mill would then have been more to the right of center and that the drama of the light and dark contrasts in the sky would have had an even greater visual and emotional impact than it has today.
See Ernst van de Wetering, “The Mill,” in Rembrandt’s Landscapes, ed. Christiaan Vogelaar and Gregor J. M. Weber (Leiden, 2006), 83–84. In another, less convincing reconstruction, which postulates that Rembrandt would have used the full width of the canvas support, Van de Wetering has also suggested that the composition originally could have been much larger, measuring 105 by 140 centimeters. He also argues that the painting was irregularly cut to fit on a stretcher and that the image is therefore slightly tilted to the right.
Such major compositional changes demonstrate that Rembrandt was not attempting to paint a topographically accurate view, although he may well have been inspired by windmills situated on bulwarks outside of Amsterdam or Leiden. The shape and isolated character of the mill in this painting call to mind the bastion “Het Blauwhoofd” on the outskirts of Amsterdam, a site Rembrandt drew frequently in the 1640s and early 1650s.
See Cynthia P. Schneider, Rembrandt's Landscapes (New Haven, 1990), 91–92, no. 10. Boudewijn Bakker, "An Amsterdam Windmill in Washington," in Rembrandt 2006: Essays, ed. M. Roscam Abbing (Leiden, 2006), 74–84, fig. 5a, as by Rembrandt(?), argues that the Blauwhoofd bulwark remains the prime candidate as The Mill’s model, but concedes that Rembrandt’s childhood memories of his father’s mill on the Pelikaans bulwark in Leiden “undoubtedly play[ed] a role in his artistic imagination” (p. 83).
For information on Rembrandt’s family in Leiden, see P. J. M. de Baar and Ingrid W. L. Moerman, “Rembrandt van Rijn en Jan Lievens, inwoners van Leiden,” in Rembrandt & Lievens in Leiden, ed. Christiaan Vogelaar (Leiden, 1991), 24–38. Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann (personal communication, 1993) has brought to my attention the fact that De Bisschop’s drawing Rembrandt’s Mill was reproduced by means of an etching by Flameng (as Le vrai moulin de Rembrandt) in Charles Blanc, L'oeuvre complet de Rembrandt, 2 vols. (Paris, 1859–1861), 1:15.
Whether or not his father’s mill was one of Rembrandt’s sources of inspiration, the compositional changes he brought about during the course of the painting’s evolution served to give the mill an imposing grandeur. As it stands by itself on a rise just beyond the walled bastion, the mill becomes an almost iconic image, imbued with symbolic significance. In this respect, as well as for the compositional reasons mentioned above, The Mill is comparable to the etching The Three Trees, which almost certainly is a symbolically conceived landscape.
For a discussion of the religious symbolism of The Three Trees, see Cynthia P. Schneider, Rembrandt's Landscapes (New Haven, 1990), 240–242, no. 75.
Hans Kauffmann, “Jacob van Ruisdael: ‘Die Mühle von Wijk bij Duurstede,’” in Festschrift für Otto von Simson zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Lucius Grisebach and Konrad Renger (Frankfurt, Berlin, and Vienna, 1977), 382, is the only author to interpret the scene in a positive manner: “Eine Komposition, die die Mühle himmelan hebt, aufsehenerregend, als hätte der Maler Jugenderinnerungen verklären und glorifizieren wollen.”
As Hans Kauffmann has persuasively argued, the windmill had numerous associations in Dutch literary traditions, ranging from temperance to religious imagery. Zacharias Heyns, for example, in his emblem book of 1625, draws a parallel between the mill, which turns only when the wind blows, and man, who is dead in his heart until the spirit gives him life and makes him whole.
Zacharias Heyns, Emblemata, Emblemes Chrestienes et Morales (Rotterdam, 1625): “De mensch is doot in syn gemoet/Den Geest verquict en leven doet.”
Roemer Visscher, Zinne-poppen (Amsterdam, 1614), emblem XL: “Een Prince die zijn ampt wel bedient, doet alle vlijt ende neerstigheyd dat zijn onderdanen ende burghers welvaren, ende goed neeringhe hebben: overleggende dagh en nacht in zijn herte, om alle hinder en ongheluck af te wenden, met den meesten oorboor en minste schade: ghelijck de Watermeulen lijdt den aenstoot van alle winden, om deur kracht van dien het water met zijn schepraden uyt te werpen.”
Political associations are often found in Rembrandt’s work, most explicitly so in his allegorical painting The Concord of the State (Museum Boymans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam), which he probably completed in the early 1640s.
See inventory no. 1717, from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, rev. ed. by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 593, no. 476, repro.
For a discussion of this issue see Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “History, Politics, and the Portrait of a City: Vermeer’s View of Delft,” in Urban Life in the Renaissance, ed. Susan Zimmerman and Ronald F. E. Weissman (Cranbury, NJ, 1989), 165–184.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
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; (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; Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd marquess of Lansdowne [1780-1863], Bowood House, Wiltshire, by 1824; 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.
- The Orleans Gallery, The Great Rooms, Pall Mall, London, 1793, no. 91, as Landscape with a mill (twilight).
- British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1806, no catalogue (special exhibition of paintings displayed for copyists).
- British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1815, no. 37.
- British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1864, no. 112.
- 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.
- 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.
- Exhibition of Works by Rembrandt. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1899, no. 40.
- 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.
- Rembrandts Landschaften [Rembrandt's Landscapes], Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, Staatliche Museen Kassel; Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, 2006-2007, no. 5, repro.
- 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.
- Bikker, Jonathan, and Gregor J.M. Weber. Rembrandt: The Late Works. Exh. cat. National Gallery, London; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. London, 2014: 293 fig. 98.
- Minutte de l'inventaire fait après le décès de Monsieur Philippe, petit fils de France, duc d'Orléans, Régent du Royaume. Décedé le 2 Xbre 1723. Paris, 1723: 153, no. 1968.
- DuBois de Saint Gelais. Description des Tableaux du Palais-Royal, avec la vie des Peintres à la tête de leurs Ouvrages. Paris, 1727: 364.
- Fontenay, Louis-Abel de Bonafous (Abbé de Fontenay), and Jacques Couché. Galérie du Palais-royal gravée d'après les tableaux des différentes écoles qui la composent, avec un abrégé de la vie des peintres et une description historique de chaque tableau. 3 vols. Vol. 3: École hollandaise, allemande, française. Paris, 1786-1808: 3(1808):unpaginated, repro.
- Buchanan, William. Memoirs of Painting. 2 vols. London, 1824: 1:195, 196.
- Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829-1842: 7(1836):189-190, no. 601.
- Nieuwenhuys, Charles J. A Review of the Lives and Works of Some of the Most Eminent Painters. London, 1834: 12.
- Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Kunstwerke und Künstler in England und Paris. 3 vols. Berlin, 1837–1839: 1(1837):517; 2(1838):296.
- Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Works of Art and Artists in England. 3 vols. Translated by H. E. Lloyd. London, 1838: 3:86.
- Jameson, Anna Brownell Murphy. Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries of Art in London. London, 1844: 288-289, 317-318, no. 82.
- Leslie, Charles Robert. Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, Esq. R.A.: Composed Chiefly of His Letters. 2nd ed. London, 1845: 346-347.
- Burnet, John. Turner and His Works. London, 1852: 104.
- Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Illuminated Mss.. 3 vols. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. London, 1854: 2:501-502, no. 5; 3:156-158.
- Blanc, Charles. L'oeuvre complet de Rembrandt. 2 vols. Paris, 1859-1861: 1(1859):14 n. 2; 2(1861):434.
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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.
The canvas was prepared with a double ground consisting of a reddish brown lower layer followed by a yellowish gray upper layer. 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 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. 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.
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. 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.
 See Ernst van de Wetering, "The Mill," in Rembrandt’s Landscapes, ed. Christiaan Vogelaar (Leiden, 2006), 83.
 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).
 Infrared reflectography was performed with a Mitsubishi M600 PtSi focal plane array camera.
 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.
 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.
 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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