Black chalk on light brownish paper (recto and verso):
145 x 100 mm.
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The drawing belongs to a group of some sixty-five “chalk studies of single figures or groups, beggars, cripples, Jews, vagabonds and a destitute elderly person shown walking, standing, sitting or conversing that Rembrandt made during the forties and early fifties”.
The generally small figures have been drawn in an extremely lively manner, and Rembrandt has represented the postures, gestures and especially the faces, with very characteristic expressions.
On the verso of one of the drawings, A beggar family, is a portrait of Jan Six (Benesch 749, verso), which was made as a study for the etching of the Portrait of Jan Six of 1647 (B. 285). This is one of the leads in dating the drawings, while another sketch, Four men discussing (Benesch 714, fig. 857), has been connected with two etchings from 1652 and 1654 respectively, both representing Christ among the doctors (B. 65 and B. 64). A precise dating of most of the drawings is not possible. Together with a group of small black chalklandscape drawings, they must all have been executed in the forties and early fifties. However, in the Leiden period (1625-1631), Rembrandt had made earlier figure studies not only using black chalk but also with red chalk, following the example of his teacher Pieter Lastman.
The man wears a wide, old coat, hanging loosely over his shoulders, and he has lifted the slip of his coat at the left, holding it under his hands. Under his coat he wears a jerkin, which opens slightly above his waist. The floppy hat completes an artistic look.
He seems to hold something in his hands between his thumbs that looks like a little flower, but this is not certain. The face has been very finely drawn: the man shows a faint smile, while the corners of his mouth have been slightly accentuated;
The different phases in which the drawing has come into being are clearly noticeable and characteristic of Rembrandt’s procedure. To begin with, the figure has been broadly sketched, with the loose contours repeated everywhere. Fine shadows with sloping chalk lines have then been added (under the hat, inside the collar on the right shoulder, beneath the hands and inside the coat, and also between the legs). Next, using finer lines the forms have been improved, for example the digit of the man’s right hand, the thumb of his left hand, and also the pleats in the coat around the hands. The outline of the hat has been drawn twice, the second time enlarging the hat with lines finer than those in the earlier version. In some places, Rembrandt used strong accents, for example under the hat at the left and right sides of his head.
Some of the chalk sketches bear an inscription in ink with Rembrandt’s name written by the collector Lambert ten Kate. These drawings may have come from the collection of the Amsterdam dealer J.P. Zoomer (1641-1724) (identical to Zoomer, c.f. Lugt no.1511). In the catalogue of his collection, which can be dated in the early twenties of the 18th century, we find ‘A book oblong, no. 38, with gold stripes, bound in horn, with many attractive pictures of Jews and Jewesses, Persians, beggars and other street figures…’ (P. Schatborn, “Van Rembrandt tot Crozat. Vroege verzamelingen met tekeningen van Rembrandt”, Ned. Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 32, 1981, pp. 21-24 and pp. 28-31.) Although none of the chalk figures bear Zoomer’s collector’s mark, the Standing man with a hat may also have come from his collection.
Dr. Peter Schatborn, Amsterdam, 7th January 2009
Apeldoorn, Paleis Het Loo, ‘Uit De Kunst!’, exhibition at the occasion of the centennial jubilee of the ‘Vereeniging van Handelaren in Oude Kunst in The Netherlands (VHOK), November 2011 – January 2012, cat. no. 27, p. 47, with ill.