Wednesday, April 6, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Rembrandt

Rembrandt van Rijn was born on July 15, 1606 in Leiden.  He joined the University of Leiden at the age of 14, but left the school to pursue studies in art.  It makes one wonder Rembrandt was studying before, and what he would have become had he not left to study art.  Thankfully, we will never know.
Rembrandt was studying under a couple of artists, and by the age of 22, he had mastered his craft and was already taking pupils of his own.  He moved to Amsterdam in 1631 and later married in 1634.  His wife was a lady named Saskia van Uylenburgh and was the cousin of a wealthy art dealer, so Rembrandt's career was set to take off on a successful path as well.  Through his connections with other wealthy individuals, he received a number of commissions for portraits.  He also received commissions for a number of mythological and religous scenes.  Long story short, the 1630s were very successful years for Rembrandt, as his work was in great demand by a number of wealthy patrons.
In addition to his success as an artist, Rembrandt also had great success as a teacher in this period.  His studio was filled to capacity with pupils wanting to learn from him, including artists who were already pretty well trained and established.  Rembrandt had so many students, that to this day identifying and attributing pieces by Rembrandt is its own academic discipline.  One particular self-portrait that had been attributed to Rembrandt has recently been discovered as a copy by one of his students.
While Rembrandt's career was successful and the envy of many other artists, his personal life was marked with great misfortune and tragedy.  His wife gave birth to four children, but only one survived.  Her own death came shortly after in 1642.  Rembrandt was shattered, and went into a period of self-destructive behavior.  Specifically, since all he had was money, he would do a lot of impulse buying of random objects that he suggested were props for still lifes and other paintings.  But it eventually became a case of hoarding, and by 1656 Rembrandt had declared bankruptcy.
In spite of his personal tragedy, Rembrandt's success as an artist managed to continue, though his financial problems also remained.  However, he executed some of his best pieces in his later years.  Each one, particularly his self portraits, indicated in its style and expression the hardships he was facing in his personal life.  The rugged brushwork of his self portraits described perfectly his level of sorrow and his aged appearance.  Each painting was a symbolic testimony to how Rembrandt felt about his life.  Rembrandt fell in love with his housekeeper Hendrickje Stoffels, and featured her in a few paintings as well.  But she also passed away in 1663, as did Rembrandt's only surviving son Titus in 1668 at the age of 27.  By this time, Rembrandt was crippled with deep sorrow, and less than a year after his son's death, Rembrandt died in Amsterdam.
If anything, Rembrandt's work is a statement to his legacy - he was a survivor.  And to this day, his work not only survives, but is revered more than ever.

Rembrandt van Rijn
Self Portrait
oil on canvas
114 x 91 cm.

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