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Self-Portrait etching at a Window

Self-Portrait etching at a Window
etching and drypoint
on laid paper, watermark Strasbourg Lily (Hinterding G)
a brilliant, early and very atmospheric impression of New Hollstein's fourth state (of nine)
printing with great clarity, with much burr and a subtle plate tone
Plate 157 x 130 mm.
Sheet 159 x 133 mm.
Pierre Mariette II (1634-1716), Paris (Lugt 1790), dated 1669.
Jonathan Blackburne (1721-1786), Hale Hall and Liverpool (see Lugt 2650b), dated 1770 and with initials J. D. in pencil (possibly referring to the engravers and dealers John Dean or John Dixon); his posthumous sale, Hutchins, London, 20 March 1786 (and following days), lot 806 (with others; £ 1.12.0 to Smith).
Nathaniel Smith (circa 1738-1809), London (Lugt 2296, with his shop code EIXXB in brown ink); probably his posthumous sale, Dodd, London, 26 April 1809 (and following days), lot 918 (with another).
Moritz Michael Daffinger (1790-1849), Vienna (Lugt 652a; with his inscription in black ink, lacking the estate stamp).
Joseph Daniel Böhm (1794-1865), Vienna (Lugt 271, 272 and 1442); his posthumous sale, Posonyi, Vienna, 4 December 1865 (and following days), lot 594 ('Superber gratiger Abdr. Vor der horizontalen Strichlage, welche die Unterlage, auf welche der Meister zeichnet, in zwei Theiletheilt etc. (Avant les travaux (sic.) au livre, qui lui sert d’appui, etc.) Rare. In tergo : ‘P. Mariette & Daffinger.'). (Fl. 32; to Graf Traun).
(Possibly) Hugo Count of Abensperg-Traun (1828-1904), Vienna and Maissau, Austria (presumably with his stamp; not in Lugt).
August Laube, Zurich (their stocknumber 32907 in pencil verso).
Acquired from the above on 10 February 1972, and thence by descent to the present owners.
A. von Bartsch, Catalogue raisonné de toutes les Estampes qui forment l'Œuvre de Rembrandt..., Vienna, 1797, no. 22, pp. 19-21.
A.M. Hind, A Catalogue of Rembrandt's Etchings; chronologically arranged and completely illustrated, London, 1923, no. 229, p. 100 (another impression illustrated).
C. White & K.G. Boon, Hollstein's Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts: Rembrandt van Rijn (vol. XVIII), Amsterdam, 1969, no. 22, pp. 10 & 11 (another impression illustrated).
N. Stogdon, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etchings by Rembrandt in a Private Collection, Switzerland, 2011, no. 3, pp. 6 & 7 (illustrated).
E. Hinterding, J. Rutgers & G. Luijten, eds., The New Hollstein - Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts 1450-1700: Rembrandt, Amsterdam, 2013, no. 240, pp. 155-157 (this impression cited, another impression illustrated).


C. White, Rembrandt as an Etcher – A Study of the Artist at Work, London, 1999, pp. 150-152 (another impression illustrated).
C. White & Q. Buvelot, Rembrandt by Himself, exh. cat., London, 1999, no. 62, pp. 186 & 187 (another impression illustrated).
S.S. Dickey, Rembrandt – Portraits in Print, Amsterdam, 2004, pp. 128-130 (another impression illustrated).

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

The Rembrandt scholar Christopher White considered Self-Portrait etching at a Window ‘undoubtedly the greatest and most searching’ of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, and it left an enduring legacy for the self-portrait genre (C. White, Rembrandt as an Etcher: A Study of the Artist at Work, London, 1999, p. 152). What better way to introduce the prints by Rembrandt in the Josefowitz Collection than with a self-portrait of the artist at work. In Self-Portrait etching at a Window the artist faces the viewer almost frontally. As the writer Harry Berger has suggested, ‘The etching invites us to replace the mirror with ourselves’ (H. Berger quoted in S. Dickey, Rembrandt: Portraits in Print, Amsterdam, 2004, p. 128). Dressed in a simple, dark work cloak with a white, collarless shirt underneath, and a hat, the artist sits at a desk. With his right hand he is working with an etching needle on a printing plate, propped up on a large book and a stack of folded cloth in front of him. To his right is a window with a sketchy view onto a bright, hilly landscape with a farmhouse below. The room and the figure are dark, rendered with dense hatching in subtle gradations of grey and black. Deep black, velvety drypoint lines over the etched surface suggest the soft texture and pattern of his cloak. His broad face with a trimmed moustache and slight double chin is modelled with a network of fine etched lines, following the intricate play of light on his features. The only highlights are the folded cloth, his hand, the undershirt and his eyes. His expression is one of absolute concentration on his subject, his piercing look making us intensely aware of the gaze of the artist.
Few artists depicted themselves as regularly as Rembrandt. Possibly unique in European art, he painted himself at least forty times, and etched no fewer than 31 self-portraits in a printmaking career that stretched over three decades. His earliest self-portraits, created around 1629-30, are mostly small, quick sketches. Expressive and perceptive as they are, they are not so much explorations of the self as exercises in facial expressions. For these little plates, he used himself as a model, rather than being the sitter.
In 1639, aged 34, Rembrandt created the grandest of his self-portraits in print, Self-Portrait leaning on a Stone Sill. Sumptuously dressed in the fashion of the 16th century and with the luxurious folds of his sleeve draped over the wall in the foreground, his pose emulates both Titian’s Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo, circa 1510 (National Gallery, London, inv. no. NG 1944) and Raphael’s Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, 1515 (Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. no. 611). He knew both paintings, which at the time were in the collection of the diplomat Alfonso Lopez in Amsterdam, and had made a drawing after Raphael’s portrait in the same year. By associating himself with two of the great painters of the Renaissance, he not only placed himself in their tradition, but presented himself as the young, fashionable artist of the day. He was at the height of his success and received commissions from the rich burghers of Amsterdam and the court in The Hague.
Executed a decade before the present portrait, the contrasting mood of these two etchings could not be more dramatic, as Christopher White observed: ‘A world of experience is visible between the two self-portraits. Earlier he had depicted himself from the outside in a self-consciously constructed image, but now he studies himself from within’ (op. cit., 1999, p. 150).
The years that followed the earlier self-portrait were marked by personal tragedy for Rembrandt, most notably the death of his wife Saskia in 1642, and the steady decline of his finances. Not only had his private circumstances been difficult in the intervening years, during which he did not etch a single self-portrait; his social relations and patrons had also changed, from the leading patrician families to the writers and intellectuals of the city. The prominently placed book on the desk, a motif frequently repeated in his portraits of the period, led Stephanie Dickey to observed that ‘Rembrandt’s return to self-portraiture, and his revised conception of his pictorial identity, reflect his concurrent immersion in the literary community […] Just as the youthful Rembrandt adopted the persona of a successful courtier, here, the artist asserts his affinity with the literati who were the principal patrons of his later years’ (op. cit., 2004, p. 126). With this self-portrait, as Dickey argues, the artist however does more than just associate himself symbolically with these literary circles. ‘More than a view of the artist in his atelier, the self-portrait of 1648 recalls the visual topos of the scholar in his study… Thus, Rembrandt’s pose evokes a parallel between the act of drawing or etching and that of writing.’ (ibid., p. 127).
It has often been noted that the landscape in the window it is more evocative of Italy than the Low Countries, and clearly not a view from the artist’s Breestraat studio in Amsterdam: it is a work of the imagination, a synthesis of observation and intellect. Although he had never visited Italy, and it became increasingly unlikely he ever would, Rembrandt seems to demonstrate that he didn’t need to.
Although created about twenty years earlier, Self-Portrait etching at a Window stands alongside another great self-portrait, his late Self-Portrait with two Circles, painted around 1665-69 (Kenwood House, London). Both the etching and the painting are self-referential: Rembrandt poses with the tools of his art – the etching needle in one, a palette, brushes and a maulstick in the other – while showing the viewer what he can achieve with them. Both are demonstrations of his virtuoso mastery of either medium, be it the intricate lines on the copper plate or the paint on the canvas. What unites them above all, however, is the focus on the act of looking. In both images, the artist has desisted almost completely from describing the interior. What remains visible of the surroundings - the view through the window in the etching and the mysterious circles on the wall in the painting - serve as mere symbols of the act of invention and creation. The interiors are either shrouded in darkness or non-existent, the garments and other accoutrements barely suggested, in the painting with thick, almost abstract impasto brushstrokes, in the print with black lines over black lines. In both works, Rembrandt concentrated entirely on his face, on his own eyes looking at himself – and at us. ‘This is I’, he seems to say, ‘and this is what I do’. Self-Portrait etching at a Window is a sober assessment of himself and his place in life, and a profound reflection on his role as an artist, on the power of observation and the nature of art.
This print exists in nine states. The first three states are unfinished. The present example is an exceptionally fine impression of the fourth state, in which Rembrandt had completed the image by adding the fictitious landscape in the window. All subsequent states are posthumous. The subtle modelling of the face, the dark hatching, and the drypoint wore quickly on this plate, but the present example shows no wear at all and prints sharply in all areas and with much burr. In its clarity and subtlety, it compares favourably to the two impressions of the fourth state from the Cracherode Collection in the British Museum (inv. no. F,4.33 & 34).

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