The Unfinished Print


embrandt is without doubt the dominant figure in the history of the unfinished print. During the course of his long career he explored the aesthetic question of finish in all its essential dimensions. Among his earliest etchings are the so-called sketch sheets, seemingly random groups of studies often scattered in various orientations on the plate. In other cases he made etchings meant to appear like loosely executed drawings and occasionally left areas uncompleted in largely finished compositions. There is good evidence that most of the examples shown here were printed in the artist's lifetime, implying that he regarded them as worthy of distribution and serious consideration. Although Rembrandt's sometimes brash tendency to experiment is well known, his obsession with the complexities of artistic process and his fascination with exploring the stages of artistic invention are most dramatically revealed in his prints. A later generation attributed to Rembrandt the statement, "a work of art is finished when an artist realizes his intentions." Whether or not he actually said this, it certainly reflects his practice.

For Rembrandt the revelation of creative process through successive states and differing impressions of a print were fundamental to his understanding of artistic invention. Sequences of states establish a partial record of the artist's thinking and rethinking of an idea (see Christ Presented to the People and The Three Crosses). Like drawings done in preparation for a painting, the evolving states of a print allow us to trace the deliberation that attends the making of any work of art. Yet, unlike drawings, prints record exact stages in reworking the actual image. Over time collectors began to take an interest in this byproduct of the art form, but printmakers were necessarily aware of it from the start. Rembrandt's experiments over the life of a single plate were usually subtle, but sometimes radical. Frequently states in a progression were also independent resolutions.


The Unfinished Print-Introduction Etchings as Drawings Rembrandt French Rococo Etched Proofs Piranesi and the Invented Fragment 19th Century Paris Modernity Glossary Image Index
Etchings as Drawings French Rococo Etched Proofs

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