Self-Portrait leaning forward: Bust

Self-Portrait leaning forward: Bust
on laid paper, without watermark
a very fine impression of this extremely rare, early little portrait
third state (of five)
printing strongly and sharply
with fine vertical wiping marks
trimmed to the platemark
a few tiny, unobtrusive repairs
Plate & Sheet 43 x 40 mm.
With Craddock & Barnard, London.
Captain Gordon W. Nowell-Usticke (1894-1978), Christiansted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands (without mark and not in Lugt); acquired from the above; his sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 31 October - 1 November 1967, lot 3 ('a very fine impression of this rare work') ($ 1,600; to Nathanson).
With Richard Nathanson, London.
Sam Josefowitz (Lugt 6094; on the support sheet recto); acquired from the above in 1975; then by descent to the present owners.
Bartsch, Hollstein 5; Hind 36; New Hollstein 13 (this impression cited)
Stogdon 53

Brought to you by

Tim Schmelcher
Tim Schmelcher International Specialist

Lot Essay

This delightful, if slightly sombre, little self-portrait is one of the earliest in Rembrandt’s printed oeuvre. It is one of a series of very small self-portraits made in the years 1628-31, as Rembrandt was still living in Leiden and just starting off as an independent artist and printmaker. They are perhaps best understood as facial studies, with the artist using himself as a model, rather than planned and composed self-portraits. They nonetheless capture his likeness perfectly, which we know so well from his many painted, drawn and etched self-portraits, at all ages, with his characteristic curly hair, round face, broad nose and penetrating eyes. This tiny sheet in particular conveys the intense concentration with which the young artist observes his own features in the mirror, therein reminiscent of the great, later Self-Portrait etching at a Window of 1648 (NH 240). All his attention is focused on the face, the rest of his body and his garments are of no interest whatsoever. Self-Portrait leaning forward: Bust is a rapid sketch, yet in its diminutive format contains ‘Rembrandt in a capsule’ and anticipates his virtuoso late style: by concentrating on what matters and leaving everything else to the viewers imagination.
The etching was made by re-using the plate of The Flight into Egypt: A Sketch (1628; NH 4), which Rembrandt must have considered a failure. Only two impressions of the full composition are known (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale), printed before he cut the plate into different pieces. Of the Flight into Egypt, he only kept and further developed the part depicting Joseph and the Ass’s Head. The present self-portrait was etched on another section of the plate, with the head of the Virgin still visible, upside down at the top of the plate, in the first two states. For the present third state, the artist cut the plate down even further, burnished out the background and reworked the face and hair. The first and second state of the portrait are only known in one impression each (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Rothschild Collection, Louvre, Paris). In the fourth and fifth state, he added a few lines and hatching here and there. No posthumous states exist, and all are very rare. To our knowledge, no other impression has been offered at auction within the last thirty years.

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