Rembrandt

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Choose only one master — Nature.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (15 July 16064 October 1669) was a Dutch painter and etcher, generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in history.

Quotes of Rembrandt[edit]

In these two paintings the greatest and most innate emotion has been expressed, which is also the main reason why they have taken so long to execute.
Try to put well in practice what you already know; and in so doing, you will in good time, discover the hidden things which you now inquire about.
A painting is finished when the artist says it is finished.
  • Because of the great zeal and devotion which I experienced in executing well the two pictures which His Highness commissioned me to make — the one being Christ's dead body being laid in the tomb, and the other Christ arising from the dead to the consternation of the guards — these same two pictures are now finished through studious application, so that I am now disposed to deliver the same and so to afford to His Highness. For in these two paintings the greatest and most natural movement has been expressed, which is also the main reason why they have taken so long to execute.
    • Letter to Constantijn Huygens on paintings commissioned by the imperial court (12 January 1639), as quoted in Painters on Painting (1963) by Eric Protter, p. 78
    • What Rembrandt meant in his phrase "die meeste ende di naetuereelste beweechgelickheijt" has been the subject of dispute. Variant translations have been proposed:
  • For in these two paintings the greatest and most innate emotion has been expressed, which is also the main reason why they have taken so long to execute.
  • The deepest and most lifelike emotion has been expressed, and that's the reason they have taken so long to execute.
  • Try to put well in practice what you already know; and in so doing, you will in good time, discover the hidden things which you now inquire about. Practice what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know.
    • As quoted in A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, both Ancient and Modern (1908) by Tryon Edwards, p. 131. Also in EASTLAKE, C. L.:Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters (p. 477).
  • I can't paint the way they want me to paint and they know that too.
    Of course you will say that I ought to be practical and ought to try and paint the way they want me to paint. Well, I will tell you a secret. I have tried and I have tried very hard, but I can't do it. I just can't do it! And that is why I am just a little crazy.
    • As quoted in R.v.R. : Being an Account of the Last Years and the Death of One Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn (1930) by Hendrik Willem van Loon
  • Choose only one master — Nature.
    • As quoted in Rembrandt Drawings (1975) by Paul Némo, as translated by David Macrae
  • Painting is the grandchild of nature. It is related to God.
    • As quoted in Rembrandt Drawings (1975) by Paul Némo, as translated by David Macrae
  • A painting is finished when the artist says it is finished.
    • Statement attributed to Rembrandt in early biographies, as quoted in The Rise of the Cult of Rembrandt: Reinventing an Old Master in Nineteenth-Century France (2003) by Alison MacQueen
  • A painting is not made to be sniffed.
    • Statement attributed to Rembrandt in early biographies, as quoted in The Rise of the Cult of Rembrandt: Reinventing an Old Master in Nineteenth-Century France (2003) by Alison MacQueen
  • A painting is complete when it has the shadows of a god.
    • Statement attributed to Rembrandt in early biographies, as quoted in The Rise of the Cult of Rembrandt: Reinventing an Old Master in Nineteenth-Century France (2003) by Alison MacQueen

Quotes about Rembrandt[edit]

Rembrandt painted 700 pictures. Of these, 3,000 are still in existence. ~ Wilhelm von Bode
Rembrandt not only stops the time that made the subject flow into the future, but makes it flow back to the remotest ages. ~ Jean Genet
Rembrandt is truly called a magician... that's not an easy calling. ~ van Gogh
I believe in Michael Angelo, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; in the might of design, the mystery of color, the redemption of all things by Beauty everlasting, and the message of Art that has made these hands blessed. ~ George Bernard Shaw
He can blend, like no one else, reality with mystery, the bestial with the divine, the most subtle and powerful craftsmanship with the greatest, the loneliest depths of feeling that painting has ever expressed. ~ Paul Valéry
  • With regard to art he [Rembrandt] was rich with ideas, so that you frequently see him making a great number of different sketches of one and the same object, full also of changes in the figures and poses as well as the arrangement of the clothing; for which he is to be praised above all others – especially above those who employ such figures and clothing in their work as if they were twins.
  • I have had three masters, Nature, Velázquez, and Rembrandt.
    • Francisco Goya, as quoted in Painters on Painting by Eric Protter, p. 98 (Dover Publications, 1971)
  • Rembrandt the Thinker.
  • The best history is but like the art of Rembrandt; it casts a vivid light on certain selected causes, on those which were best and greatest; it leaves all the rest in shadow and unseen.
  • The psychological truth of Rembrandt's paintings goes beyond that of any other artist who has ever lived. Of course they are masterpieces of sheer picture-making. In the Bathsheba he makes use of studies from nature and from antique reliefs to achieve a perfectly balanced design. We may think we admire it as pure painting, but in the end we come back to the head. Bathsheba's thoughts and feelings as she ponders David's letter are rendered with a subtlety and a human sympathy which a great novelist could scarcely achieve in many pages.
    • Kenneth Clark, Civlisation (1969), ch. 8: The Light of Experience
  • A painting by Rembrandt not only stops the time that made the subject flow into the future, but makes it flow back to the remotest ages. By means of this operation Rembrandt achieves solemnity. He thus discovers why, at every moment, every event is solemn: he knows it from his own solitude.
    • Jean Genet, "Something Which Seemed to Resemble Decay" (1964), trans. Bernard Frechtman, Antaeus (spring 1985 issue)
  • There is something of Rembrandt in the Gospel, or something of the Gospel in Rembrandt, as you like it — it comes to the same, if one only understands the thing in the right way.
  • Rembrandt is so deeply mysterious that he says things for which there are no words in any language. Rembrandt is truly called a magician... that's not an easy calling.
  • I should be happy to give 10 years of my life if I could go on sitting here in front of this picture for a fortnight, with only a crust of dry bread for food.
  • Rembrandt. painted about 700 pictures—of these, 3,000 are in existence.
    • Wilhelm von Bode, as quoted in The Book of Bill: Choice Words Memorable Men, by Tom Crisp, 2009, p. 124
  • Of all the Baroque masters, it was Rembrandt who evolved the most revolutionary technique and who seemed to grow into the Italians' spiritual heir. Where others needed five touches he was using one, and so the brushstrokes had begun to separate and could sometimes only be properly read from a distance. The exact imitation of form was being replaced by the suggestion of it: to some of his contemporaries, therefore, his paintings began to look unfinished. It was from the Venetians that he had learned to use a brown ground so that his paintings emerged from dark to light, physically as well as spiritually. Yet, despite a palette that was limited even by seventeenth century standards, he was renowned as a colorist for he managed to maintain a precarious balance between painting tonally, with light and shade, and painting in color. Just as form was suggested rather than delineated, so the impression of rich color was deceptive. Never before had a painter taken such a purely sensuous interest and delight in the physical qualities of his medium, nor granted it a greater measure of independence from the image.
  • His temperament was that of a Prophet — a God-possessed man, brother to Dostoevski, and teeming with the future, a future he bore within him as the Hebrew prophets bore within them the coming of the Messiah, and as he bore within himself the past.
    • André Malraux as quoted in Painters on Painting (1963) by Eric Protter, p. 78
  • Rembrandt was himself a universal spirit, and this spirit informs everything that he painted, so that a biblical legend, a carcass of an ox, a naked woman, his own self-portrait — all stand as symbols of an all-embracing sympathy. Perhaps only Shakespeare, in another art, has that kind of universal intelligence.
    • Sir Herbert Read in "Gauguin: The Return to Symbolism" in The Tenth Muse: Essays in Criticism (1957).
  • Rembrandt, the son of a miller, a pupil of Lastman, attained to a high degree of excellence in art through industry and natural gifts, although he never visited Italy and was but imperfectly developed. … He sinned against the laws of anatomy, proportion, perspective, and the antique, as against Raphael's draftsmanship; and he warred also against academies and relied on nature.
    • Joachim von Sandrart, in Comments (1675), as quoted in Painters on Painting (1963) by Eric Protter, p. 80
  • His engravings bear witness to his industry, and by its means he acquired affluence... If he had been more prudent in his relations with others, he would have become still wealthier. But although he was no spendthrift, he cared little for social rank, and was addicted to the society of humble folks, who interfered a good deal with his work.
    • Joachim von Sandrart, in Comments (1675), as quoted in Painters on Painting (1963) by Eric Protter, p. 80
  • Perhaps we shall one day find that Rembrandt is a greater painter than Raphael. I write down this blasphemy which will cause the hair of the schoolmen to stand on end without taking sides.
    • Eugène Delacroix, as quoted in The Rise of the Cult of Rembrandt: Reinventing an Old Master in Nineteenth-Century France (2004) by Alison McQueen
  • I have likewise made many 'skies' and effects — for I wish it could be said of me as Fuselli says of Rembrandt: 'he followed nature in her calmest abodes and could pluck a flower on every hedge — yet he was born to cast a steadfast eye on the bolder phenomena of nature'.
    • Quote of John Constable from his letter to Rev. John Fisher in 1821 on painting his oil-sketches of stormy weather, as quoted in Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams, Constable (Tate Gallery Publications, London 1993), p. 222
  • He can blend, like no one else, reality with mystery, the bestial with the divine, the most subtle and powerful craftsmanship with the greatest, the loneliest depths of feeling that painting has ever expressed.
    • Paul Valéry, Degas Danse Dessin (Degas Dance Drawing, 1935)
  • Kolakowski, as we will see, has clearly depicted the religious life and the forms of community constructed by the cultured strata of the Dutch bourgeoisie. Spinoza lives in this world, with a vast network of simple and sociable friendships and correspondences. But for certain determinate strata of the bourgeoisie the sweetness of the cultured and sedate life is accompanied, without any contradiction, by an association with a capitalist Power (potestas), expressed in very mature terms. This is the condition of a Dutch bourgeois man. We could say the same thing for the other genius of that age, Rembrandt van Rijn. On his canvases the power of light is concentrated with intensity on the figures of a bourgeois world in terrific expansion. It is a prosaic but very powerful society, which makes poetry without knowing it because it has the force to do so.
    • Antonio Negri (1991). Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics and Politics, translated from the Italian original by Michael Hardt.
  • It is tempting to believe that Rembrandt might have owned, or seen, Chinese or Japanese paintings. But there is no evidence for this at all. Yet when we look at some of his drawings, notably those sketched freely in ink or ink wash, we find a combination of formal clarity and calligraphic vitality in the movement of pen or brush that is closer to Chinese painting in technique and feeling than to anything in European art before the twentieth century. This, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must attribute to coincidence and to Rembrandt's unique gifts as a draughtsman.
    • Michael Sullivan, in The Meeting of Eastern and Western Art, 1989, p. 91
  • Offhand, I think of the Schubert Fantaisie in F Minor. The weight of the melody here is such that you can't place where it is, or what it's coming from. There are not many experiences of this kind in music, but a perfect example of what I mean can be found in Rembrandt's self-portrait in the Frick. Not only is it impossible for us to comprehend how this painting was made; we cannot even fix where it exists in relation to our vision. Music is not painting, but it can learn from this more perceptive temperament that waits and observes the inherent mystery of its materials, as opposed to the composer's vested interest in his craft. Since music has never had a Rembrandt, we have remained nothing more than musicians.
    • Morton Feldman, as quoted in The Music of Morton Feldman, by Thomas DeLio, 1996, p. 208
  • Rembrandt is the most transparent artist I know. What he proclaimed as his credo, the commentaries of his contemporaries and what we find in the drawings all add up to one obsessively truthful, artist. One who proclaimed that he drew from nature (life) and ‘anything else (invention) was worthless in his eyes’. He could not have been clearer, yet because this credo directly contradicts the apparent credo of our times: the more an artist differs from nature the more ‘creative’ that artist is, Rembrandt’s true gift to us has been excised.
  • Rembrandt was the sharpest observer of human behavior. This is his amazing strength and needs to be studied. We cannot understand him if we deny his use of models and de-attribute half his output. He was the most important signpost for artists. Scholarly antics have pushed him into a position where he is no longer trusted by the young. I have been preaching the need for a paradigm shift in the mind-set of the tribe of art historians for years. They need to start by experiencing practical art for themselves, or at minimum, have the humility to listen to those who have.
  • My discoveries came as a result of practising art. For me Rembrandt’s drawings exemplify above all others, the sculptural values of space and form. The scholars live in a world apart, reading each others books but refusing all correction from artists; alas, it is our history they are ravaging!
  • Rembrandt was on a continuous journey of discovery; not on a production line of consistent art objects for the market-place, as the scholars hope to recreate him. His wide ranging methods and interests produced very wide ranging quality. He did not tidy away his less successful works, nor should the scholars do so. He has left us the fullest record of his explorations of any artist and naturally his work includes many comparative failures. But astonishingly, even some of his greatest drawings have been mis-attributed to minor students.
  • I gave up painting by 16. I secretly thought I would have been Rembrandt by then. I don't believe in genius. I believe in freedom. I think anyone can do it. Anyone can be like Rembrandt... Picasso, Michelangelo, possibly, might be verging on genius, but I don't think a painter like Rembrandt is a genius. It's about freedom and guts. It's about looking. It can be learned. That's the great thing about art. Anybody can do it if you just believe. With practice, you can make great paintings.
  • Well, any draftsman knows about speed. I mean, Rembrandt drawings, you can see speed in them. I am interested in speed. I think most painters paint faster than they tell you.
  • There's a drawing by Rembrandt, I think it's the greatest drawing ever done. It's in the British Museum and it's of a family teaching a child to walk, so it's a universal thing, everybody has experienced this or seen it happen. Everybody. I used to print out Rembrandt drawings big and give them to people and say: “If you find a better drawing send it to me. But if you find a better one it will be by Goya or Michelangelo perhaps.” But I don't think there is one actually. It's a magnificent drawing, magnificent.
  • The Chinese regarded not acknowledging the brush and the marks it makes as a bit crude; to them, that was trying to cover something up, so not such a high form of art. European art historians don't look at China very much. But I suspect Rembrandt must have known Chinese drawings, and had probably seen a few. Amsterdam was a port, and the Dutch were trading a great deal in the Far East. For example, a Chinese master looking at Rembrandt's drawing of a family, now in the British Museum, would recognise it as a masterwork.
  • In a way, Vermeer and Rembrandt are opposites. But Rembrandt is the greater artist, I think, because he's got more ingredients than Vermeer. Rembrandt put more in the face than anyone else ever has, before or since, because he saw more. And that was not a matter of using a camera. That was to do with his heart. The Chinese say you need three things for paintings: the hand, the eye and the heart. I think that remark is very, very good. Two won't do. A good eye and heart is not enough, neither is a good hand and eye. It applies to every drawing and painting Rembrandt ever made. His work is a great example of the hand, the eye – and the heart. There is incredible empathy in it.

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