The National Galleries Scotland in Edinburgh present a beautiful exhibition of Rembrandt’s work from a British perspective. Rembrandt not only painted British buildings, people can also see little known work like as an (alternative) Reading old woman, a windmill in a landscape that inspired many other artists and beautiful etchings and selfies, a genre that the Dutch painter introduced.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was born in Leiden, but he worked in Amsterdam, where he settled in 1663. Rembrandt was a succesfull painter and printmaker, nevertheless he ran into financial difficulties and he was declared insolvent in 1656.

Self Portrait
Self Portrait c. 1655, Oil on canvas, 52,7 x 43 cm National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

In the seventeenth century Rembrandt was especially known for his etchings. In the eighteenth century, the collecting of his works culminated in a real craze. The nineteenth century saw a re-avaluation of Rembrandt’s reputation. The Dutch artist was the main stimulus for an etching revival that continued into the twentieth century.

During his life Rembrandt explored several English subjects. The artist is unlikely ever to have set foot on British soil, but St. Albans Cathedral, Windsor Castle and London with Old St. Paul’s are clearly identifiable in his work. Yet there are some inaccuracies regarding details of the buildings and the topography.

Viiew of St. Albans Cathedral
View of St Albans Cathedral, 1640, Pen and brown ink, brown wash and black chalk, 18,4 x 29,5 cm, Teylers Museum Haarlem

Rembrandt portraits are ‘expressive and lively’ and they are praised for their ‘truth of likeness.’ The first major paintings by Rembrandt started to appear in Britain around 1720. Rembrandt’s work in Britain include his late Self-portrait, The Circumcision, Belshazzar’s Feast and Landscape with the Rest on the Flight to Egypt. 

Flight into Egypt
Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, 1647, Oil on panel, 34 x 48 cm, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

Reprints and copies catered to the huge demand for Rembrandt’s etchings. Captain William Baillie acquired the worn plate of The Hundred Guilder Print, one of Rembrandt’s most famous etchings. Baillie reworked it and printed a limited edition in 1775, thereafter cutting the plate into four pieces and continuing to print from these fragments.

Rembrandt’s work had a huge impact on many artists in Britain, like Turner, John Crome and John Constable. The Mill had a lasting effect on landscape artists in the nineteenth century. British painters chiefly took inspiration from Rembrandt for portraits and self-portraits.

The Mill
The Mill, 1645/48 Oil on canvas, 87,6 x 105,6 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington

British artists didn’t copy Rembrandt’s work, but you certainly recognize his style: vast, dark interiors, penetrating stares, moody candle lighting, yellow, red and brown glazes and painterly brushwork. Even today British artists borrow from Rembrandt: John Bellany, Glenn Brown, Leon Kossoff and many others. Their modern paintings can be seen amidst the canvases and prints of the Dutch master himself.

From Rembrandt
Leon Kossoff, From Rembrandt: A Woman Bathing in a Stream, 1982, Oil on board, 58,4 x 48,3 cm, Private collection

Rembrandt and Britain; National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh 7 July – 14 October 2018.

(For this review I used information from the museum catalogue)